Introducing Mason Bees
Mason bees derive their name from their habit of using mud or other masonry products to build their nests. In contrast to honey bees or bumblebees, the mason bees are solitary and every female is fertile with her own nest. They usually make their nests in gaps between stones or in hollow twigs or wood. They may also choose to nest in abandoned nests of wood-boring beetles or carpenter bees.
Within a few days of mating, the female selects a nest site and has begins to visit flowers to gather pollen and nectar for her nests; many trips are needed to complete a pollen/nectar provision mass.
When bees leave the nest in search of food, they are looking for two things: nectar (the sweet stuff flowers make from which bees get energy) and pollen (the powdery substance flowers use to reproduce, which provides protein for bees).
As they feed, bees spread pollen from flower to flower allowing plants to reproduce, produce seeds, and keep flowers and fruits growing. Without pollinators, flowers will not produce as many seeds or as many flowers.
Once a supply of pollen and nectar (referred to as a mass) is stored in the nest, the bee backs into the hole and lays an egg on top of the mass. Then, she creates a partition of "mud", which doubles as the back of the next cell. The process continues until she has filled the cavity. Female eggs are laid in the back of the nest and male eggs toward the front.
Once a bee has finished with a nest, she plugs the entrance to the tube, and then may seek out another nest location.
Mason bees are very efficient pollinators. This is largely a result of their anatomy and general behavior. Unlike other bees that collect pollen from their hind legs, mason bees have pollen-collecting hairs in their abdominal area. This allows them to collect a larger amount of pollen and they are likely to pollinate every flower that they visit.
Here are a few fun facts about the importance of bees:
Bees pollinate 80% of all flowering plants on Earth.
A single bee colony can pollinate as many as 300 million flowers per day
Bee pollination helps provide nourishing habitats for animals like birds and other insects
Bees are major contributors in creating beautiful floral landscapes both in the wild and in our own gardens
Bees play an important role in food chain and are estimated to pollinate 70 of the top 100 human food crops.
Bees pollinate about 75% of fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in the U.S.
Encouraging Your Bees with a Mason Bee House
Knowing that bees are important to your garden, many growers put out mason bee houses to provide an appealing place for bees to lay their eggs and continue to grow the bee population.
A Mason Bee House is a bundle of bamboo tubes that provide a place for mason bees to reproduce and gather pollen and nectar for their young. The tubes are an appealing nest location for the mason bee and can help you encourage bees to live on your property and help you with your garden.
Be sure to place your mason bee house against a flat surface and in an area protected from high winds. The front of the house should have a south or southwest exposure where it will get the most sun in winter to keep bees warm.