For the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about getting a mason bee house to add to my garden. I believe we already have them around, and it would be nice to give them a home near my raised beds. If it proves successful, I can purchase another house next year to put near my fruit trees. (I don’t think they’re quite old enough to bloom this year yet.) So, with that thought in mind, I figured I should do some research about these little bees before I bought a bee house. Here’s what I learned.
Mason bees, better known as orchard mason bees (osmia lignaria), are different than most other bees because they are non-social. They don’t live in a hive with a queen, but rather seek out solitary tubes to nest in. A female mason bee will look for hollow stems, woodpecker drillings, insect holes, or even holes in the ground to lay her eggs – one per hole. She’ll travel up to 100 yards to gather pollen and nectar and insert a ball of pollen into each hole she lays an egg in, which she then caps with mud. Because of this, the female mason bee is an excellent pollinator! During the short time mason bees are active in the spring (about four to six weeks, beginning with the redbud bloom and before and during the dogwood bloom in our area), one female mason bee will pollinate as many flowers as 60 honey bees! Wow!
The female lays her eggs during that short period of spring when she’s collecting pollen. The larvae then develop and cocoon during the summer. Beginning in the fall, the adult mason bees will become dormant for the winter. The following spring, the adult males will emerge first and await the females for mating. Then the cycle begins again.
It seems as though keeping mason bees would be an easy task. They don’t make honey, so there is no hive to maintain. The only requirements are to keep a house of tubes (see photo above for an example) within 100 yards of the plants or fruit trees you want pollinated and to make sure there is a muddy area available for the female to cap the tubes she lays her eggs in. Simple, huh?
I’ve been noticing that I don’t see many honeybees in my garden these days, but I do see lots of bumble bees and other small bees which may be mason bees. I also see lots of small holes in my garden soil during the early spring, too. (Mason bee holes? I’ve always wondered.) Maybe putting up a mason bee house would help with pollination prior to the arrival of the other bees with the warmth of late spring. I know I’ll have to make my decision in the next few days to get my bee house before the redbud blooms!
Do you have a mason bee house in your garden? How has it worked for you?