We love bees!
For several years we have designed bee jewelry
inspired by the plight of the honey bee. The honey bee population is declining at a nerve-wracking rate, due in part to colony collapse likely brought on by neonicotinoid insecticides. Beyond being a valued part of the ecosystem, honey bees are vital to the pollination process that gives us many delicious foods including avocado, cucumbers, apples, coffee, peppers, watermelon, lemons and limes.
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Solitary bee on a dandelion[/caption]
However, in addition to the honey bee, there are many pollinators who deserve our appreciation and support. There are nearly 20,000 species of bee and unlike the beloved honey bee, the largest percent of bees are solitary bees. Solitary bees are more efficient pollinators than honey bees and they rarely sting. (And when they do sting, it’s quite minor compared to a honey bee sting).
How is a solitary bee different than a honey bee?
Solitary bees often nest near each other, but they do not belong to a colony. They don’t work together, have a queen, or raise each other’s young. Solitary bees are not naturally aggressive or territorial and only the females have stingers, which they only use if handled roughly. Solitary bees are tremendous pollinators because unlike honey bees, who have pollen baskets on their legs to store pollen that they take back to the hive, solitary bees continually lose pollen as they visit each flower. This makes their pollination much more efficient!
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Honey bees with pollen baskets full of pollen to bring back to their hive.[/caption]
What is a mason bee?
Mason bees are a kind of solitary bee that use natural materials to form their nests. That's where the name comes from - for the "masonry" type materials used in their nests. Mason bees are non-destructive; they don’t carve their own nesting cavities. Instead, they use any available tube-shaped structure like a hollow reed, nail hole, plant stem, or cracks in the wall. Using mud, mason bees create little pockets that each house one egg and enough pollen to sustain the larva after it hatches. The female eggs are laid toward the back of the cavity because the male eggs hatch first. After mating and finding a place for her eggs, the female mason bee works tirelessly to build her nest and harvest enough pollen for her eggs. Female mason bees live a short three months and die before their eggs hatch the following spring.
Mason bees travel only a small distance from their nest – usually just a few hundred feet, whereas honeybees travel up to 2 miles from the hive. This makes mason bees wonderful pollinators to have in backyard gardens! They are also very docile and safe around children and pets.
You can help mason bees thrive by providing them a home!
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Mason bee at the entrance of a bamboo hive[/caption]
You can buy a ready-to-use mason bee house, or you can try making your own. There are many styles of DIY mason bee homes – the more you poke around online, the more you’ll find! Mason beekeepers generally use paper straws or wood slats that can be opened and cleaned. Another option is a 4 x 4 block with holes drilled in it, however this is extremely difficult to clean and can develop mold and mites, which can be detrimental to mason bees. If you’re thinking you’d like to build a mason bee house with straws, just be sure to NOT use plastic straws as they don’t breathe or absorb moisture which can lead to mold. Any paper straw is fine, or bamboo if you have access to some.
Mason beekeeping is becoming quite popular these days. Beekeepers will harvest the cocoons in the fall, keep them safe during the winter and bring them outside in early spring. Helping solitary bees thrive is one small thing we can do to help the overly taxed honeybees. If you’re not up for beekeeping, there are other options that are beneficial to all pollinators.
How to help solitary bees
- •Go easy on the plant cleanup; leave some dead plants for natural bee habitat.
- •Allow open soil areas for mason bees to gather mud for their nests.
- •Plant beneficial trees and flowers for pollinators. Here are a few suggestions: honey locust, crabapple, forsythia, fruit trees, elderberry, crocus, larkspur, lavender, honeysuckle, mint, and sunflowers.
- •Don’t use harmful pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides! There are other ways to address unwanted bugs and weeds that don’t result in dead pollinators and a grocery store void of fruit, vegetables, nuts, and oils.