Building a house for Mason Bees is a fun and easy project that can net exciting results for the whole family. It’s a relatively straight-forward process that will give your bees a place to nest and make your garden attractive to them.
What is a Mason Bee?
Most people typically think of yellow and black stripes and hives when they think of bees. Mason Bees differ from those norms in both appearance and behavior in a way that makes them pretty interesting.
In contrast to the typical black and yellow stripes, Mason Bees are a dark metallic blue color. And rather than living in a hive community with other bees, Mason Bees tend to be “loners,” in a sense. There is no hive; Instead, when they nest, they seek out small little “hole” areas and use clay to seal the entrance of their nest. Their use of clay is similar to how masons work and are where the Mason Bees get their name.
Mason Bees are also very independent. As there is no hive, there is also no queen, just each female caring for her own larva.
With that said, Mason Bees seem content to nest next to each other, and many of them will take up residence in a bee house, each with their own little compartment.
A final note about the Mason Bees is that they are master pollinators, even more so than the popular honeybee. This makes them a welcome addition to any garden, so building them a suitable home benefits both you and them!
What Type of House Do Mason Bees Need?
There are several options for bee house construction. I will share the simplest method below, courtesy of Lewis County Beekeepers. The most important part of building any Mason Bee house is to ensure there are several small, deep holes where bees can take shelter. They will need a place to nest safely where their larvae will be protected from birds and other predators.
This recommendation for a simple bee house lays out a couple of different methods for creating straws. When placed vertically, the straws will be used to form each individual bee shelter.
You can create straws a couple of different ways:
- Cut parchment, craft, or wax paper, into 8.5×11 inch sheets.
- Take each one and fold in half, then fold in half again.
- Unfold and cut each along the lines of the folds, giving you four smaller pieces.
- Roll the paper up snugly in a pencil, rolling from opposite corner to opposite corner. Secure tape over the middle, and on each end if needed.
- Pinch closed one end and trim the triangle section on the other end. This creates a snug home for the Mason Bees.
Cut paper into 6.25×5 inches and roll length-wise to create a six-inch straw.
Whichever option you choose, after the straws are created, you simply insert them into a new home: use a binder board, nesting block, or even a coffee can.
It’s important to note that these straws will need to be replaced with fresh, new ones for each season. After the last females emerge from the house, it will be time to switch them out. Also, make sure to always use paper straws – never plastic.
I chose to share this method because it’s simple to do. It’s a straightforward build that can be done without much skill level and would make an ideal family project. Even small children will be able to participate and see the fruits of their labors.
If you’re wanting a different material or design, there are definitely other methods of building a Mason Bee House. For example, you can drill holes into blocks of wood, then insert straws (optional). One thing to keep in mind is that while you can drill holes in wood blocks, they can be difficult to keep clean over time due to mold and humidity.
Also, if you lack the tools or knowledge on how to use them it would make the project difficult and possibly even dangerous.
Where Should I Put the Mason Bee House When It’s Ready?
There are a couple of solid guidelines to follow. The first is to ensure that the house is hung several feet off the ground.
The bee house needs protection overhead. Hang it under an eave of your house, garage, shed, or the like if possible. If not, ensure your Bee House design includes a roof.
Since Mason Bees are known for their love of clay, it’s very important to have a supply of mud with a clay-like texture available. The bees will want to use it seal up their homes, so ensure the house is near some clay (you can even place it wherever you choose to have the house).
Another thing to think about – as Mason Bees are foragers, they like to gather pollen and nectar from a wide range of flowers near their home. Consider placing the bee house near a variety of plants with different flowering periods so there is always something from which bees can forage.
Okay – So What Now?
Sometime around early summer, the little tunnels you’ve built for the bees will be capped with mud. From there you have a couple of options. One option is to place the larvae-filled tubes into a bucket with a hole drilled into it. After the bees hatch, they can leave through the hole.
You can also leave them where they are. They should wake up when the next season begins.
Another option is harvesting the bees. This process is a little more complicated and involves opening the tubes, removing the cocoon and other material, and then sorting out any cocoons that have been damaged or touched by disease. From there, they can be refrigerated if desired until temperatures reach about 50 degrees.
At that point, you can put them outside near their nest, and the next cycle begins!
Using a simple method, such as building paper straws and inserting them into a structure to house them, is a straightforward way to get the whole family involved and learn something new.
Encouraging Mason Bee populations is not only good for your garden but the environment as a whole. These prolific pollinators appreciate a safe home to lay their larva and will pay you back for your efforts. While there are many ways to build a Mason Bee house, the result of any successful bee house is the same – happy bees and beautiful gardens!
The bees and the environment will thank you!