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The Case for Mason Bees

Posted by CharlieBoring 7 (My Page) on
Fri, Feb 22, 13 at 12:40

I am by no means a master gardener nor am I very experienced in keeping bees. When I was a teenager, I kept honey bees because my grandfather was a beekeeper and told me that honey bees were the best pollinators around. However, my research on the internet and my discussions with other gardeners has shown me Grandpa was wrong.

I grow lots of fruit. Recently, I started a small orchard to my yard. I have persimmons, apricot, Asian pears, plums, jujubes, peaches, cherries, paw paws, raspberries, figs, lackberries, blue berries, huckleberries, goji berries, strawberries, pomagranites, and kiwis. My vegetable garden includes eggplants, melons, tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, squash, and pole beans and all need bees.

So you can see I have an interest in pollinating all of the above, otherwise my garden would be adversely affected.

Since honey bees are a social bee, they communicate with each other about where to find the sources of pollen, nectar and water. Therefore the first blooms to open get the first attention. If you watch closely, the bees will exit from the hive and go straight to the blooms that opened first during the season. Bees become fixated, when a nectar source opens, the bees concentrate on that source, becoming fixed on that and little else until the bloom period for that plant is over. If your blossoms open a few days after your neighbor’s blossoms, by the time your neighbor’s blossoms have finished, your blossoms are half over, and old blossoms do not pollinate well, if at all.

A bee that flies in cool, damp and cloudy weather, which honey bees don't, is also needed. It is also important that the maintenance of the bees doesn't require a great deal of time, which most gardners do not have. Since the blooming period is often short, the bees need to be able to work quickly and not get fixated on one nectar source. Mason bees are the ideal solution. Mason Bees only fly approximately 300 yards from its nest site, thus helping to ensure pollination of your blossoms, not your neighbor’s.

Mason Bees (MB) are solitary and there are numerous strains. They do not need a nest site with thousands of worker support. While they do prefer others of the same strain around, mainly for mating purposes, the females do most of the work in provisioning the nest tube. The males are good pollinators in their own right, but their forage is for their own use, and not for their offspring.
MBs nest in tubes, under natural conditions, mainly those left by burrowing insects. With the removal of mature trees there has been serious habitat loss, so MBs are in short supply and nest sites should be encouraged.

These nest sites can be simple blocks of wood up to 6 inches deep, holes drilled approximately 5/16ths inch in diameter. The females will first close off the back of the nest tube with mud on the bottom plug she will use pollen as the feed plus a small amount of nectar, and lay an egg. This section is then sealed with a mud plug, then immediately she will start on a second nursery cell and so on till she gets towards the front of the tube at which time she will lay unfertilized eggs, creating males. Under good conditions MB females will lay at least 3 females and 2 males per tube, after which she will seal the end and move to a second nesting tube.

Unlike honey bees, MBs carry the pollen in a sac beneath the abdomen. When a female lands on a flower she dives in belly first, right in the middle of the blossom stamens. Whereas a honey bee lands on the side and walks down looking for the nectar site, possibly brushing past the stamen in passing. Each blossom needs up to eight visits to effectively pollinate them. MBs will do a better job, purely because of their approach to each blossom.

It should be obvious that MBs main interest is pollen whereas honey bees interest is nectar for honey making. So with honey bees pollen transfer is accidental, but with MBs, transfer is deliberate. As the honey bee carries the pollen in baskets on the back legs, brushed there when the bee cleans itself, so transfer is accidental.

The MB is a hard worker, visiting hundreds of flowers to charge each egg site with pollen and the increase in fruit crops using them is well documented, in some cases up to a 4 fold increase. Unlike honey bees, they will start earlier in the morning, finish flying later in the day and cool damp weather doesn't prevent them working.

In a few short weeks, the nest tubes are sealed and the larvae then eat through their stores, pupate, then wait in the tubes till next spring before emerging. The outer eggs turn into males, which emerge a few days before the females, then hang around waiting to mate with the emerging females.

Caring for MBs cannot in any way be considered labor intensive. They work without supervision, sealing off their young from predation with mud plugs. Some provision should be made to stop wood peckers accessing the nest site and then late in the fall the nest site should be taken in, opened and the cocoons cleaned to prevent infestation by pollen mites. This is a learning experience and ideally a search on the internet for Mason bees or Blue Orchard bees will supply sites where more information is available and where bees can be purchased.

I personally decided not to purchase MBs, but to construct bee boxes to attract the native ones. I have two nest boxes so far and one is populated from last spring. Another is located very close to the old one and is ready to accommodate MBs this spring.

My intention is to cover the populated box with a cardboard box, with ½ inch holes in it, on or about March 15 to allow the MBs to exit but to discourage them from using the old box during this spring and encourage them to use the new box.

Next, I will remove the old box around May 15 and clean it to kill mites and put it up again the next spring.

This post was edited by CharlieBoring on Thu, Mar 6, 14 at 13:03


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

I have many of the same fruits you are raising, except for huckleberries; but I also have European pears and apples. I am attempting to raise both honey bees and Japanese horn-faced orchard bees. It is my understanding that west coast orchard bees do not do well east of the Rockies.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Hey Charlie, I got my Hornfaced Mason bees fri. I built a covered box for them and secured it up on the fence. Ive been checking on them every day since and as of this morning havent seen any hatch yet. Got my fingers crossed! When they do hatch there will be plenty of blueberry flowers for them to feast on. I hope it works.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Here in N. VA they begin hatching after March 15. If you build a bee box with several different sizes of holes, you will see many of the holes will become populated, so there are probably many types of solotary bee that will take up residence if you build them a place. They will probably have hatching dates suitable to local weather. I suggest that you keep a number of bee boxes to encourage species native to your area to take up housekeeping. You will probably have more success.

I just planted some vegetables (tomatoes, peppers and zucchini) indoors and will be setting them outside in my garden in about 8 weeks.

Bee keeping and gardening are a lot of fun, if you like new things.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

In these pictures I show my 2012 populated mason bee box with a carboard cover to discourage 2012 population of the box. In June I will clean it. I also show my 2012 empty mason bee box that I hope will be populated instead of the covered one.

This post was edited by CharlieBoring on Wed, Mar 20, 13 at 12:34


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Second image.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Well after my first batch of Mason Bees failed I ordered more last week. I think I can claim success! Looking in the house this morning before the sun came up I saw 5 femal bees in the holes and a couple little males hanging out too. Today there was quite a bit of activity around the house. Males were buzzing by and femals going in and out of the holes. I think its going to work. Hopefully they will attract other native mason bees if I have some locally.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

  • Posted by ljrd3 z9 / 10 CA (My Page) on
    Wed, Jan 15, 14 at 11:52

I'm in SoCal and have three citrus trees - one is a well established and sometimes very productive navel orange. The orange tree and meyer lemon are in full blossom right now and have bees all over - how can I tell if they are honey bees or mason bees? (there are lots of other fruit trees in the neighborhood) I am considering putting up a MB house.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Honey bees have two sets of wings; I believe the solitary bee (there are many types) have only one set.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Hmmmm, 50,000 honeybees in a hive. That's a lot of holes to drill if you're looking for an equivalent number of mason bees ; ).

This post was edited by Beach_bums on Sun, Feb 16, 14 at 14:25


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Beach_Bums,
From the reading I've done, it sounds like Mason bees are more efficient pollinators than honey bees. Also, many of the bees in a honey bee hive aren't doing the work of pollinating. They are caring for the young and protecting the hive and maintaining temperature, etc. So, you wouldn't need nearly as many Mason bees as honey bees to do the same work, because Mason's don't have a hive to maintain and protect. For the same reason, Mason bees are very unlikely to sting--if they are even capable of stinging--because they don't have a protective instinct toward their larvae.

Martha


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Beach Bum - Mason bees work when it is cold and wet; honey bees do not. The objective of a mason bee's visit to a flower is to gather pollen; a honey bee's collection of pollen is accidental. Honey bees become more fixated on a discovered nector source to the detriment of blooms that open later, leaving the later opening fruit tree under polinated. Mason Bees polinate about 20 to 25 times more flowers than a honey bee.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

This is really great information, thanks! I built a windblock out of pallets around my fruit trees (40-50 in all) and wanted to mount nests for native bees.

I had honeybees here last year from a local beekeeper. They were fascinating. But I was shocked at how many native bees I saw. That got me really interested in encouraging the native population.

From what I understand I just need to protect the nests from rain and drill holes of varying sizes into wood blocks (untreated, of course). Do the wholes need to be drilled all the way through? Or how deep if not?


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Any untreated wood will do except cedar. The holes need to be from 3 - 6 inches deep, but not all of the way through. If it is very cold in your area, I would cover the box in the winter with a cardboard box to give it a little more protection from the elements. Some people collect their boxes and place them in an unheated shed for the winter.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

>>a honey bee's collection of pollen is accidental<<

Not so,..you sound like honey bees are worthless, pollen is needed, food for all bees to feed larvae.

Here, honey bee pollen picture showing MORE pollen is collected in spring to curb population,..LOTS of pollen needed!

May 2. 09 photo IMG_4460_1_1.jpg


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

I took a really sturdy small pallet (my wood stove shipped on it) and started filling it with branches from trimming trees as well as a wood block we had around. Tomorrow we'll go on a scavenge hunt for more trunks and I'll pick up some wood blocks to fill the while thing in. When we're done I'll hang it near our orchard and put a roof over it!

Thanks again for an awesome post!


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

One more view of the bee house in progress.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Lilhouseontheprairie,
I assume you will drill holes in each of your pieces of wood? I've been wondering if it would be easy and still helpful to pile some of my old chunks of wood near the garden and drill holes in them. Does it matter which direction the holes are made in relation to the grain of the wood?

Martha


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

From my knowledge the holes need to be smooth and from 3 to 6 inches deep. The openings need to face south or southeast to be hit by the early morning sun. It is best to have the house at least 3 feet off of the ground; I do not know why, but my guess is to prevent plant interference and to have some protection from ants.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

"Beach Bum - Mason bees work when it is cold and wet; honey bees do not. The objective of a mason bee's visit to a flower is to gather pollen; a honey bee's collection of pollen is accidental. Honey bees become more fixated on a discovered nector source to the detriment of blooms that open later, leaving the later opening fruit tree under polinated. Mason Bees polinate about 20 to 25 times more flowers than a honey bee."

Almost none of this is true.

Honey bees are very effective pollinators, which is why there is a multi-million dollar industry dragging around honey bee hives and plopping them in people's orchards.

The biggest issue that honeybees have as far as pollinators is they tend to work one crop at a time, whereas solitary bees tend to work more randomly.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Joppa - Have to disagree with you.

"Mason bees work when it is cold and wet; honey bees do not." True. Watch a hive on a early wet, cold morning.

"Honey bees become more fixated on a discovered nector source to the detriment of blooms that open later, leaving the later opening fruit tree under polinated." True, as indicated by your statement, "The biggest issue that honeybees have as far as pollinators is they tend to work one crop at a time, whereas solitary bees tend to work more randomly."

"Mason Bees polinate about 20 to 25 times more flowers than a honey bee." Many other individuals have stated similar information. An individual native bee will polinate many more blooms than an individual honey bee. If taling about a hive versus a native bee house, you would be correct.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

Bees become fixated, when a nectar source opens, the bees concentrate on that source, becoming fixed on that and little else until the bloom period for that plant is over. If your blossoms open a few days after your neighbor’s blossoms, by the time your neighbor’s blossoms have finished, your blossoms are half over, and old blossoms do not pollinate well, if at all.

If your statement were true, nothing in my back yard except the orange tree and then the queen's wreath would be pollinated, because blooms are prolific and bloom periods overlap.

A certain proportion of the bees, the foragers, are always looking for the next good spot and recruiting other bees to come harvest what they have discovered. I have watched bees go from the creosote in full bloom to the bok choi blossoms a few feet away, and from the orange blossoms to the alyssum to the tomatillos. Those are foragers ... the ones waddling from orange blossom to orange blossom are the gatherers.

On any given collection run a gatherer bee usually stays with a certain kind of flower, but a forager's "waggle dance" can recruit that bee to a different resource for the next run.


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RE: The Case for Mason Bees

I will drill wholes, yes. I have to dig out the right size bit. I own it, but I have to find it :)

It's good to know to face it South. The South side of my house faces the orchard. I'll mount it under the roof eve over there. It isn't near doors and won't receive much interference!


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