Much of what we read about bees refers to honey bees. However there are thousands of species of wild bees as well. These are mostly solitary bees, where every female lays eggs, rather than just the one queen, as is the case in honey bee colonies.
I recently attended a class on creating habitat for wild bees, specifically cavity nesting bees. About 70% of wild bees nest in the ground and very little is known about these bees scientifically, according to the speaker. However, scientists know more about cavity nesting bees and this was the focus. These are bees that nest in hollow shapes, such as reeds, hollowed stems or holes in wood. There are several kinds of cavity nesting bees, including mason bees that pack their nests with mud and leaf cutters that use pieces of leaves to wrap their cocoons. Loss of available habitat is one of the challenges these bees face and it is an area where humans can actually help. There are a few ways we can help by restoring natural habitat or providing new habitat, that we create.
How to help create habitat for cavity nesting bees
As part of the class I went to, I was provided with two bee nesting boxes (pollinator
‘mailboxes’) made from milk cartons and paper tubes. In exchange, I will participate in a citizen science initiative to help track the kinds of cavity nesting bees we’re seeing in our region, around Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. The nesting boxes have a variety of sizes of tubes in order to attract a variety of bees. It wouldn’t be difficult to make these yourself out of painted milk cartons, paper tubes and a way to stand it off the ground. However, if you’re not up for a project, it’s so easy to get a kit. Here’s where I talk about my first mason bee house. There are some great kits that are ready to go and you can either see who may show up or actually get some bees as well.
It’s been more than one month since I set up my first mason bee house. It took about five days for all of the 20 bee cocoons to hatch and get started with their very short lives. If you’d like to see what they looked like when I got them IN THE MAIL, look here. Solitary bees only live about 5-6 weeks. This means that all of those bees are most likely already dead. As of today, they have filled and capped 23 of the tubes in the mason bee house. They were awfully busy for about a month, gathering pollen and nectar and bringing it to the tubes, packing it in with the eggs so the larvae had food.
Mason Bee Timeline: How to Keep Over the Summer
Setting up a house for mason bees is super easy, but you’ll have to time it right. Here in the Pacific Northwest, mason bees are put out in April and slow down by May. In the meantime the females have gathered their pollen and nectar mix, laid about 6-8 eggs per tube and caked those shut with mud.
The eggs will then hatch and the larvae will feed off the pollen and nectar throughout the summer. After the the tubes or holes are plugged up and there is no more activity, it is best to store your filled holes. This will protect your growing bees from pests, birds and parasitic wasps. These little bee larvae are a tasty treat for them and the larvae are not as secure as they seem, even packed in all that mud.
My mason bees arrived a day early! They came in the mail, as if they were not living creatures. In a regular cardboard box, along with the cardboard nesting tubes I had ordered. The actual bees were in a teeny tiny cardboard box about the size of a thick slice of butter. The instructions from Crown Bees said to cool them in the refrigerator right away.
The information explained what to do if a few of the males had already come out of their cocoons. It said, “This shows that they are healthy, strong and lookin’ for a little lovin’.” That little lovin’ will mean death for the males, so hopefully they get at least a few days to enjoy life out of the cocoon.
My daughter and I took a peak into the tiny box, and two little guys were indeed already out. You can purchase something called a Humidibee for this purpose, but I had not. So we jabbed some holes in an old hummus container, popped the required sugar-soaked cotton ball in (for nourishment), covered it all with a brown paper bag, and there they went into the fridge, right between the strawberries and leftover soup. Apparently they can live up to five weeks out of the cocoon if they’re kept cold so they don’t move around. This seems crazy to me, but my experience level with all of this is, shall we say, at the beginning stages.
I found this great free downloadable poster about the difference between solitary bees and honey bees. It’s much clearer than anything I could write on the subject, so here it is! You can get your own for free right here.
Mason bees are great pollinators and relatively easy to care for. They very rarely sting and do not produce honey. They are solitary bees, which means they do not live in hives or have worker bees. Every female is fertile and they create nests to lay their eggs. This is what the bee house is used for.
I assumed getting ready for mason bees would be nothing more than a quick online read and maybe repositioning the bee house I bought almost a year ago. I was wrong. I got a small surprise while reading up on the Crown Bees website, where my bees are coming from. Nothing too dramatic, but I do want to do all I can to ensure the success of these little pollinators.
My bees will be arriving this week and I was planning to use the mason bee house I bought last year that has been hanging empty in the yard with no sign of bees anywhere near it ever since. What I leaned is that this bamboo house will not work (see below for why)! I quickly ordered some nesting tubes and will hunt around for something protective to put them in that will serve as the makeshift bee house. Continue reading Getting Ready for Mason Bees→
I got this simple bamboo mason bee house for my daughter last year. I chose this one because it had a nice modern look, and was made from bamboo. It was also one of the least expensive I saw. I thought it would be a great way to learn about bees and attract them to our yard. I have learned a lot since buying this house a year ago. See this post about getting my first bees and how I had to rig this house to make it safe and functional by basically taking it completely apart. I recommend looking at the mason bee houses and supplies at Crown Bees, where I got my mason bees, if you are looking for a bee house.
Mason bees are non-agressive, native bees that lay their eggs in narrow passages, like those in the bee house. Unlike honey bees, they are solitary bees. The females make their own nests and there are no worker bees. They lay their eggs in hollowed tubular shapes, such as hollow reeds or holes in wood. When a nest is filled with eggs, they plug the end and move on to find the next nest great post to read.
These mason bee houses and others like them provide lots of tube shaped spaces for bees to create nests and lay their eggs. If it looks plugged up with mud or something pasty you’ll know it is filled with eggs. So far in ours, none of the tubes are filled. I’m not sure if we just don’t have mason bees around here or if they have plenty of other spaces nearby in which to lay their eggs. Continue reading Product Review: Bamboo Mason Bee House→