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Mason Bees, Super Pollinators
If you’re looking for a first-class, super pollinator, look no further than the mason bee. They are smaller and don’t produce honey, but these special bees are seven times as effective at pollinating as their honey-making partners. These bees also stay closer to home pollinating the plants in their own backyard rather than the orchard two houses over.
Caring for Mason Bees
Caring for mason bees is super easy. The hardest part is protecting their homes from carnivorous predators that will take over. The most important thing these bees need is a house – either a rotting log they can find holes to burrow into. Most people, however, buy mason bee homes with tubes that can be removed and replaced or stored.
These tubes are the “hive cells” of the mason bee. Every female will lay up to 35 eggs and each egg will need its own tube. After the female bees have mated with the males, they spend their time building a pollen ball that they roll into the back of each of the tubes. This pollen ball is the food that the mason bee larvae will eat while it works its way out to the front of the tube in the spring.
Once the ball is in place, the mason bee female will lay her egg on top of it and then proceed to live up to her name by bricking the larvae into the tub with a mixture of mud and water. She’ll fly away, pollinate and eat, and then fly back with little puddles of mud that she’ll use to seal up the entire tube. This cycle will continue until the fall when the flowers fall and your female bees die.
Over the course of the winter, your larvae will pupate and transform, ready to chew their way out in the spring and start the cycle over again.
Protecting Your Bees
It’s important to note that their passivity and pollen practices make mason bees a favorite snack for a number of animals not least of which is wasps and yellow jackets who will even take over the mason bee tubes and lay their own eggs, their larvae eating not just the pollen but the mason bee larvae. It gives you a nasty surprise in the spring so you want to learn how to distinguish between the different masonry techniques of the wasps and bees.
Mason bees are hard-workers but are too busy to bother with you. While they are capable of stinging, they will only do so if you go out of your way to try and harm them. Male bees have no ability to sting at all! Their stings are also significantly less painful – those who have been stung by them were surprised to learn they’d been stung at all and hadn’t even noticed the sting at the time it occurred.
An Ideal Alternative
If you’re not desperate to grow honey bees but are more interested in the pollinating ability of bees then mason bees are hands-down the best option. They are child-friendly, gardener-friendly, and extremely hard working. In fact, with honey bees slowly but steadily going extinct, the super-pollinating abilities of mason bees are grabbing people’s attention.
While there are more than 140 species of these solitary bees, the most commonly raised and purchased is the blue orchard or just orchard mason bee. It resembles a shimmering blue fly rather than the striped yellow and black of a honey bee.