Bees Without the Hive

The finished Mason Bee nest block securely attached to the side of our shed.


If you have been reading this blog, you may have seen the posts about building a bee hive. I have been interested in bees as pollinators for some time, and I can appreciate the role that they play in pollinating our crops.  I remember when I was a kid having a yard and garden full of bees but that seems to have changed.  We are also are hearing of this decline in bees mentioned in the media.  People are becoming alarmed at the decline of the honey bee but did you know that honey bees are not indigenous to America?  European settlers actually brought the honey bees with them when they settled this land. Another fact is that there are 4000 species of bees that are indigenous to North America?  With all of these indigenous bees surely we could utilize them to pollinate our crops, right?  That is exactly what I am going to wright about today.

A blog post certain is not the place to discuss 4000 species of bees but I would like to discuss the one variety that got me interested in bee keeping and that is the Mason Bee. Mason bees are one of the first pollinators to emerge in the spring.  I often see them on our Bradford Pear trees since they bloom fairly early.  When the days are sunny and the wind is low, there will be what appears to be thousands of bees swarming around our trees. A close looks at then will reveal an insect that looks much like a miniature honey bee but is darker in color.  As the season progresses, these bees will migrate from our back yard to our mini orchard, which is situated in the northeast corner of our property.  There they get to the task of pollinating the numerous blooms on our fruit trees and berry plants.  As quickly as they emerge and get to work, the Mason Bees seem to disappear as well.  They are only active early in the spring for a short time.

So how can a person promote a healthy population of mason bees? Simple, build them a house to live in.  Mason Bees will lay their eggs in holes they find in wood created by other insects so all you need to do is get a piece of wood and drill some holes in it.  OK, so there may be a little more to it than that but not much more.  There are several different was that I have seen Mason Bee nests constructed such as the previously mentioned wood block or there is paper straws placed in some type of container.  I have also seen nests constructed on bamboo as well.  I much prefer the wood block method just for the protection and durability that it provides for the eggs.

How do go about build a nest block?  you will need to start with a block of wood; I happen to have some untreated 4 x 4 lumber that I use. Drill some 5/16 inch holes ¾-1 “ on center.  Hole size is said to be important because it can influence the sex of the bees.  Drilling them smaller will increase the percentage of males.  Next, add some type of roof to your block to shed the rain from the top of the nest block and then attach the nest block to a sturdy south facing structure.  In the past I have attached it to the side of our little shed.  It is said that is important to attach the nest to a solid structure because the bees do not like a structure that is subject to movement.  That is pretty much it for Mason Bees.  Some people will choose to refrigerate their nest block or move it to a sheltered area to protect it from predators after the mason bees become inactive but I choose to leave mine in place all year.

If you are looking at a simple way to increase the yield in your garden this year, there are easier ways to do it besides a honey bee hive. Find a block of wood and drill some holes and you can be on your way to increased productivity in your garden using an indigenous pollinator.


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