How to Choose a Mason Bee House

Solitary bee hotel installed on an apple tree.

“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.” — Elizabeth Lawrence

Early to rise, early to pollinate…our native Mason Bees rely on the warmth of the sun to increase their body temperature before starting to pollinate each day. When considering the placement of your Mason Bee house, keep in mind, “Morning sun exposure will encourage your bees to start foraging earlier in the day without needing to extend excess energy,” according to the Backyard Beekeeping Blog at Bee Built. “This is because bees are ectothermic, meaning their bodies do not regulate and retain heat. They do, however, need a body temperature above 90°F in order to fly. Thus, they warm their bodies in the sun, and by vigorously vibrating their flight muscles.”

Place your Mason Bee house in a location with early morning sun. Dave Hunter, the owner of Crown Bees, “discourages the use of wooden nest blocks. He recommends [non-treated] stackable wood nesting trays, bundles of reeds, or paper tubes, which are easier for keeping bees healthy and growing their numbers.”

Here’s what to look for in a Mason Bee house:

  1. Roof overhang in the front, preferably by 2 to 3 inches
  2. Replaceable nesting tubes or reusable nesting trays for easy cleanout
  3. Six-inch long paper or fiberboard nesting tubes with 5/16 inch diameter, preferred by Mason Bees
  4. Closed back panel to prevent the nesting tubes from getting wet

Here’s what NOT to look for in a Mason Bee house:

  1. Missing roof overhang, as the nesting tubes can’t get wet
  2. Block of wood with holes drilled in it, otherwise the nesting holes can’t be maintained
  3. Bamboo or plastic straws, these are not preferred nesting tube materials
  4. Open back panel, otherwise you may have to replace the wet nesting tubes

The Ecological Landscaping Alliance says to “mount [your Mason Bee house] securely on the side of a building, tree or fence where it will receive the warm morning sun (east or south sides are best) and protection from wind and rain.

“Bees need warmth to fly and dry nesting tunnels to propagate. Placing the nest four to seven feet off the ground provides additional protection from moisture,” they added, “and it’s a good height for observing your bees. Try to have a clay-like mud source nearby – within about 50 feet, if possible.

Orchard Mason Bee pollinating a flower.“It’s important to place your nest within 200-300 feet of pollen-rich, spring-blossoming plants and trees,” the Ecological Landscaping Alliance added, “so the bees need not waste energy or time foraging for food.”

When deciding how to choose the right house for native Mason Bees, we discovered the Crown Bees company, the Native Bee Experts. Based out of Washington state, they are an excellent resource for folks learning how to provide for our native bees, including Mason Bees and Leafcutter Bees. They also have an excellent “Frequently Asked Questions” section on their website that we had to share with you. Please note, we have excerpted several of their bullet points, included below, and have lightly edited each one to address the information most relevant to this article.

Why shouldn’t I use drilled blocks of wood, bamboo or plastic straws?

  • While drilled blocks of wood, bamboo and plastic straws are inexpensive and easy DIY projects, they are unhealthy nesting materials for native bees.
  • They may seem like a new fad, but these DIY methods are “old technology” that wind up becoming obsolete within a few years, due to pest buildup within each drilled hole.
  • The best way to care for solitary bees is to harvest their cocoons in order to remove pests and disease.
  • Crown Bees does not support the use of drilled blocks of wood, bamboo or plastic straws as nesting material because they do not fall within what we consider to be best management practices. We recommend nesting material that allows air exchange and can be harvested.
  • Harvesting your cocoons allows you to observe problems, which in turn enable you to maintain and improve the health of your bees.

For information on how to harvest your cocoons, visit the Crown Bees website and learn how to “Harvest Cocoons: Step by Step.” Their article features a wealth of information, including how to harvest your Mason Bee cocoons from replaceable nesting tubes and even reusable trays.

For easy cleanout during your annual harvest, here’s a valuable tip. Roll up a piece of newspaper and insert into a nesting tube, repeat as many times as you like until all of the nesting tubes have a rolled up piece of newspaper. When doing this, make the newspaper slightly longer than the nesting tube, about 6-1/4 inches long, so you can remove the newspaper itself during annual maintenance. This allows you to remove the newspaper, without needing to clean the nesting tube itself, saving you time. Provide shelter for your native bees and shop our variety of Mason Bee Houses at duncraft.com.

 

SOURCES AND INTERESTING LINKS:

“An Intuitive Guide to the Gentle Mason Bee (PDF),” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://az184419.vo.msecnd.net/mclendon/blog-content/An-Intuitive-Guide-to-the-Gentle-Mason-Bee.pdf>.

Attract Mason Bees — No Protective Gear Needed,” Beaudette, Judy. Ecological Landscaping Alliance. Mar. 15, 2013. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://www.ecolandscaping.org/03/beneficialspollinators/attract-mason-bees-no-protective-gear-needed>.

“Everything You Need to Know Before Keeping Mason Bees,” Backyard Beekeeping Blog, Bee Built. Feb. 20, 2017. Aug. 30, 2018. <https://beebuilt.com/blogs/backyard-beekeeping-blog/everything-you-need-to-know-before-keeping-mason-bees>.

“Frequently Asked Questions,” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. 2018. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://crownbees.com/faq>.

“Harvest Cocoons: Step by Step,” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. 2018. Sept. 4, 2018. <https://crownbees.com/harvest-cocoons>.



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