Submitted by Crown Bees
Get to Know Spring Mason Bees
Are you frustrated with the low yield of your spring-blooming fruit trees? You’ve probably thought through trees for cross-pollination, but have you thought about pollinators?
Honey bees often get the spotlight as nature’s key pollinators, but spring mason bees are a more effective alternative to honey bees. Raising mason bees is easier and cheaper.
Spring mason bees, also known as Blue Orchard Mason Bees (scientific name Osmia lignaria), are native across North America. They are the perfect bee for pollinating spring’s early blooming fruit and nut trees and berry patches.
Instead of living in a colony and building a hive, mason bees are living what is called a solitary lifestyle. In solitary bee species, every female bee is fertile and she’s doing all the work: building her nest, gathering nectar and pollen, and laying eggs. In fact, 90% of the world’s 21,000+ bee species live as solitary bees and they are gentler bees because they have a lot to do in a short amount of time. Solitary bees do not form swarm attacks, they will only sting as a last resort. Solitary bee venom is very mild and raising them may not require protective clothing (if you have an allergy or sensitivity to bee venom it is recommended you always where proper protection when near bees).
Benefits of Raising Spring Mason Bees
Mason bees are actually a superior pollinator that are 100 times more effective than honey bees and there are a few reasons why. First, mason bees carry pollen dry on their hairy bellies and they don’t fly more than 300ft from their nest for forage. Dry, loose pollen carried on the large surface of the mason bee’s belly results in significantly more pollinated flowers. The honeybee wets the pollen and sticks it to her legs during long-distance transport back to the hive. Mason bees are also an awesome cross-pollinator because they busily flit back and forth between branches and trees, instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one source.
Many fruit blossoms need to be visited multiple times to even set fruit. Pears are a good example, needing to be pollinated 30 times before making any fruit at all. A flower that has been properly pollinated grows into fruit that is rounder, fuller, and even better tasting. Many customers report growing double or triple their yield than before they raised mason bees!
Spring mason bees are gentle and easy to raise. Raising mason bees is easy because they nest in pre-made holes and they hibernate over the winter in small, waterproof cocoons. Each female mason bee is going to build her nest in a nesting hole that you provide. Crown Bees nesting holes are the correct diameter and length and we offer a variety of choices to fit your needs and budget.
Low Time Commitment, Big Yields
In terms of time, raising mason bees only takes about an hour or two per year. Here are the simple steps for raising gentle spring mason bees.
- Install the bee house on a sturdy wall or fence facing the morning sun. Place your nesting tray, cardboard bee tubes, or natural lake reeds into the bee house. When your fruit or berry blooms are ready, apply InvitaBee Plus+ pheromone attractant and set the box of mason bee cocoons on top of the nesting holes. The bees will choose their new nesting holes and this step takes about 10-15 minutes.
- Wait and watch the bees pollinate and build their nests. Female mason bees are a lot of fun to watch. You will see her carrying a belly full of pollen and clayey mud in her mandibles (jaws). Make sure that your garden or orchard provides the clayey mud that mason bees need to build their nests. Time spent watching the bees doesn’t count as a chore!
- Female mason bees will finish building their nests and laying eggs after 4-6 weeks and you should remove and protect the filled nesting holes from small parasitic wasps and other insect pests. The eggs laid this spring will develop into next year’s adult bees. Put the filled nesting holes into a fine mesh BeeGuard bag and store in an unheated garage or shed. This takes 10 minutes.
- In the fall, harvest cocoons to remove healthy mason bee cocoons and prevent the spread of diseases and pests. Chalkbrood is a fungal infection that can easily spread in nesting holes that are not opened and cleaned. Harvesting cocoons takes 30 minutes to an hour or more and you can get help from family and friends.
- Store cocoons in your HumidiBee in your fridge. Storing cocoons in the fridge helps the hibernating adult bees conserve their body fat. The HumidiBee is designed to keep waterproof mason bee cocoons moist in today’s frost-free fridges. Just add a spoonful of water to the container once a month.
Get Guidance from Experts
You don’t have to learn all the steps for raising mason bees at once! Crown Bees cares about your mason bee-raising success because we want more mason bee cocoons shared with gardeners and farmers. Pick up your mason bee raising supplies from Wilco and sign up for Crown Bee’s monthly BeeMail newsletter. We will teach you about what the mason bees are doing and what your tasks are for the month. Good luck and have fun!