Mason bees are “solitary bees,” meaning that unlike honey bees, they do not form a massive colony. These hard-working native pollinators emerge from their cocoons in the spring and begin the process of nesting in specialized tubes. In each tube, a female mason bee might lay as many as six or seven eggs, and she’ll provide a food source (a big ball of pollen and nectar) for each egg. The eggs and food stores are each separated into their own cell, and then the tube itself is capped with a little bit of clay— hence the name “Mason” bee.
Mason bees are active as pollinators earlier in the season than many other species of bees. The male bees emerge first and begin foraging for food in the form of pollen and nectar from flowers. Gradually, the female bees emerge and right away they begin to look for suitable nesting spots. They prefer a nesting tube of a specific depth, with an opening of a specific diameter. Too big, or too small, will not do. Once the nesting site is chosen, the female bee releases a pheromone to attract male bees, they mate, she begins to lay eggs and gathers food supplies for her offspring. By the end of June, her work is done, the nest is full, and the adult bees die off.
When selecting your nesting site, choose a sunny location that receives morning light. Position the nest on a broad surface such as the side of a house, garage or fence, as long as it faces east or south and is in full sun. Placing it at eye level will give you the chance to view their activity easily.
In early March consider bringing out your bees. If using your bees to pollinate an orchard wait until about 25% of the trees are in bloom. Otherwise, check for other flowering plants in and around your garden. The bees will be visiting as many as 17 blooms a minute within a 100-meter radius. The ideal conditions for releasing the bees are on a warm windless day with lots of spring flowering plants in bloom in your garden. It is a good idea not to wait too long to put your bees out. Even if conditions are cold and unfriendly the bees will emerge when they are ready.
Cocoons ship with a freezer pack in the box to keep the bees cool and prevent them from hatching.
Your box of bees can now be placed outside next to the nest. It’s important to keep the box out of the rain and avoid direct sunlight. You can make an exit hatch for the bees by opening one end of the box.
In as little as half an hour, the male bees will be warm enough to begin emergence. They may wander from your garden but not far. Over the next few days or even weeks, the females come out of diapause and begin nesting.
In March, on a warm, relatively calm day, mount your clean mason bee nesting box on a south or east-facing wall where it will receive morning sunshine. The cocoons can be taken out of the refrigerator and placed on or near the nesting box.
As mason bee keepers, we can take a couple of simple steps to give the young bees a better chance of making through to the next season. The first step is to bring the mason bee house indoors in July, once the nesting phase is complete. It can be stored any place out of harm’s way, with the entry holes facing up (ie, a mason bee house resting on its “back”). This ensures that the larval bees will be in contact with their food supply. The next step we can take is to wash the cocoons and store them safely over winter.
DID YOU KNOW...
Mason bees have the ability to fly in our weather conditions and at lower temperatures than other bees. They are relatively easy to stage and care for. Native throughout the continental USA and southern Canada, Blue Orchard Mason Bees are super-efficient, hard-working, spring crop pollinators: They collect nectar and pollen at the same time by lighting on the flower, taking nectar by tongue and collecting pollen using their rear and middle legs. A single female mason bee will visit nearly 2,000 blossoms a day and a smaller home orchard can be adequately pollinated by 40 - 50 bees. Ten Mason bees will pollinate thousands of blossoms making them important for home garden pollination.
Mason bees are solitary but gregarious bees. Most bee species are solitary, that means they do not have a queen bee or workers or live in a large nest. Each solitary female is capable of mating and laying viable eggs. She has no helpers.
Mason bees though are gregarious meaning although they do not cooperate at all they like hanging out with each other. When one female chooses a nesting site that encourages other mason bees to nest nearby. That’s why the kind of nests West Coast Seeds sells work so well, they allow many individual female Mason bees to live in the same spot.
Bees and flowering plants evolved together millions of years ago. We could not have one without the other. Although bees face many challenges in this age of global weather change; at West Coast Seeds we believe that the simple act of sowing the seeds of plants that bees and other pollinators love to forage on is a critically important step in helping to ensure they; the whole planet; and we have a future. The Bee Garden Blend wildflower seeds are specially blended by our Certified Bee Master for use in managed landscapes such as disused laneways; verges; or along the edges of cultivated areas in residential or agricultural properties.