Let me introduce you to the amazing MASON BEE!
So, what is a mason bee? What makes this bee a better pollinator than the beloved honey bee? And what makes them different?
Well, the most obvious difference is that mason bees do not make honey, but they are extremely good pollinators, as a matter of fact they can pollinate up to 10 times more than a honey bee!
Just a few hundred mason bees are all that are needed to pollinate an entire acre of fruits trees, that is simply amazing.
Another neat fact about mason bees is that
they are native to North America. Honey bees on the other hand were imported to North America.
Mason bees are a solitary species, every female is fertile and she works for herself; gathering her own food, nest materials and building her own nests. Honey bees, however work as a colony and only the queen lays eggs.
When the mason bees emerge from their nests, the males exit first. The males will wait near the nests for the females and some will even extract the females from their cocoons. The females emerge and will mate with several males. The males soon die and within a few days the females begin building their nests.
The female mason bees will find narrow gaps in hollow twigs, or use abandoned nests of wood boring insects, they have even been known to use empty snail shells to lay their eggs. Typical materials used for their nest cells may be mud, flower petals, chewed plant leaves and/or clay.
Mason bees are very docile, the males do not have a stinger. The females will only sting if trapped or squeezed, this makes them a great pollinator for a small back yard or home garden, as they pose little to no threat of stinging.
Native bees have two huge advantages over the honey bee. The first being that they are solitary, they work for themselves and live independently, which makes them less prone to disease and pest problems. The second advantage is that they don't live in hives, which means they can't be trapped and transported for commercial use, which also increases exposure to toxins and takes them out of their naive habitats. The only down side, if you can call it a down side, is that they don't make honey.
Mason bees are common through out the U.S. They are smaller than a honey bee and are typically either blue-black or metallic blue in color, they get their name from their habit of "masonry" nest building, sealing their nest cell after they lay their egg with a mud material.
Females emerge in early spring and begin foraging immediately for pollen and nectar, which they collect from a variety of crops, flowers and fruit trees, they take this back to their cell and pack the far end, until they think there is enough food to feed a young bee, before she lays her egg and caps the cell. She will continue this process, laying 15-20 eggs in her life time. She then dies in about 10 weeks. Mason bees can tolerate temperatures down to about 55 degrees.
They have a 95% pollination rate, where honey bees only have a 5% pollination rate.
Another neat fact about mason bees is that they will stay near their nests to pollinate crops, where honey bees will travel up to 2 miles. So mason bees can give gardeners and farmers more control of pollination, if they provide the correct habitat for them.
So how can you attract these UN-Bee-lievable mason bees?
First offer them a cozy house under an eave or tree cover about 6 ft. off the ground. These can be easily made or purchased online or at a garden center. Photo example below of a mason bee house.
Next create biodiversity with plantings of flowers, trees and/or garden vegetables. Choose flowers that have a single ring of petals for them to easily gain access, examples; Mountain mint, white clover, purple cone flowers, bee balm, etc..
Fruit trees such as cherry are an excellent choice for opportunistic pollinators. Raspberries, lilac bushes, sunflowers and anise hyssop are all great choices too.
A small mound of soil or a shallow hole near the nest boxes can be made so they can easily gather mud to make their nest caps. That is about all one needs to do, they will do the rest! You know your pollinator house is full when you see that the cells have been or are in the process of being capped.
The mason bees are an excellent way to pollinate crops, and as you can see are very easy to attract. Nature provides all the tools needed for success and with a little bit of whole system thinking we can create regenerative landscapes that help our entire ecosystem. Let's work with nature, rather than against it and experience the amazing benefits. Remember do not use pesticides or harmful herbicides on your vegetable crops, trees or flowers.
Thanks for reading!