Mason Bee Keeping


#1

Lots of talk here about Honey Bees but I’m wondering if anyone has mason bee colonies to pollinate their fruit trees. Honey Bees sounds great but I don’t think I have the time to do all that is necessary to raise honey bees. I’ve watched many interesting videos on raising mason bees and I think that is a little more up my alley. You can buy kits from hundreds of online places. Even Raintree sells a mason bee kit. From what I’ve read Mason Bees are fantastic pollinators and are very docile.

For any of you that have colonies I’d appreciate any tips and info on best places to obtain, size of colony, best practices, etc.

Here is one site I found. Looks like you can get started for about $75.
http://www.brushymountainbeefarm.com/Mason-Bee-Supplies/products/131/


#2

I have feral mason bees from a board given to me by a friend; every year he brings a couple of empty “hives” (two-bys with holes drilled into them) for me to hang. My bees will fill some of the holes and then he collects them and candles them to detect mite infection. I don’t know whether he sells them nor how much he charges. I think at one time he planned to.

I don’t pay any attention to them- just let them do their thing. The are in fact docile and should colonize readily. They need a little damp dirt to pack over their eggs as they are laid, so make sure there’s a little muddy spot here and there.


#3

Since I’m a do it yourselfer and like the rustic look my thought was to take a solid block of maple that is 6" deep and drill 5/16th inch holes through it in a 3/4" grid through the block. Then make my own paper tube inserts out of craft paper or even brown grocery bag material and line each hole. Then add a roof with an overhang along with a backplate. Hang it about 20 yards from my orchard on a S/SE face of my garage. My only expense would be the bees.

From what I’m seeing online I should avoid plastic since it doesn’t breath or wick moisture and I should also avoid using wood without some kind of liner to prevent desease and mites.


#4

Crown Bees is a good source.

The thing about mason bees is that they want to reuse the same holes - and they shouldn’t, because of pests and diseases. But just as soon as they leave the cocoon, they mate and start egg-laying, which means it can be very difficult to clean out the old holes before the new bees are using them.

Accordingly, I like to use the disposable tubes that you can remove the cocoons from, check for mites and wasps, and refrigerate until spring.


#5

I don’t really understand their life cycle. It sounds like the female lays an egg in the back of a tube and then muds it over. Then she continues to lay eggs in the tube until she’s laid maybe 6 eggs. She will then move on to a new tube. The bees hatch from the egg and never come out of the tube? They just spin a cocoon and remain in the tube until the following spring? If none of the eggs that are born ever make it out of the tube that spring then doesn’t the bee activity completely stop? I’ve read that males die soon after mating and that females live 6-8 weeks. If that is the case and if indeed the bees that are born never emerge then all bee activity will cease by the end of May or early June depending on when they initially emerge.

This seems to contradict some of what I’ve read about mason bee activity all summer long finishing up around October. Whats the deal?


#6

The bees hatch in the spring, mate, and start egg-laying immediately

The eggs hatch in the holes or tubes, the larvae feed on the pollen the bee has stuffed in with them, then spin cocoons where they pupate. After which, the bees in the cocoons wait until next spring to hatch, although they are fully formed well before this - that’s when they emerge

They cut their way out of the cocoon and mud walls when the weather warms. If they don’t hatch, it’s almost always because they were parasitized by wasps or infested by mites as larvae.

So yes, their activity is usually ended by June, but that’s when the fruit trees are no longer blooming.


#7

This is my little setup.I started with a matchbox of cocoons,about a dozen,a few years ago and now there are hundreds.I’m not sure if there are some wild ones mixed in,but they do multiply fairly fast.


A coworker made the house.The roof top has hinges on the back,so cocoons can be placed in there in the Spring,as temperatures rise.Then the bees crawl out the three holes after hatching.
Another worker made the big block on the left,with a router and it can be taken apart for harvesting the cocoons and cleaning.
The small block on the right is from Raintree Nursery,Eco-blocks,I think they are called.I have two of them and they also can be disassembled.They’re suppose to be made of corn,but have the look and feel of plastic.
The six cardboard tubes shown are what I originally started with.They are too much of a hassle to peel open,so when they are used up,the blocks will be the way.
This photo was taken in early Spring,so there are only a small number of holes filled.Looking close,there can be seen,a few bees peeking out,waiting for warmer weather.
Right now,these are in my refrigerator,waiting to be opened and cleaned and almost every hole is filled,along with another Eco-block,not pictured.
I’ve read that if outside temps are going to be under 25F for an extended period,they could freeze,so take them to a warmer place,that is under 40F. Brady


#8

I’m glad you started this thread, Dave, because I too have been interested in Mason bees and have read a lot about them.

But I just wanted to mention that you shouldn’t assume you don’t have time for honey bees, especially based on my own posts regarding my first year experience. WHile it is true that there is much to learn and you can spend a great deal of time learning and maintaining them, the truth is you can have a great deal of success with very little effort. WHile I could have done much better if I’d spent more time learning and caring for my bees, the fact of the matter is the very first year I tried them I didn’t know anything about bees, and I honestly didn’t do anything but put the hives in my orchard, dump bees in them, and then collected honey in the fall. That isn’t an exaggeration. Really. I didn’t buy anything else, I didn’t do anything else (not that mattered). And you could build the hives, especially the simple types of hives, pretty easily.

Don’t get me wrong. I made mistakes and if I’d be more proactive and spent more time on my bees then I’m sure I would have done MUCH better. But my point is that its possible to do nothing but put out some hives, add some bees, and forget about them the rest of the year and still have pollinating bees all season and a little honey in the fall. I’m sure the advanced bee keepers here may disagree and want to talk about all the things that should be done to have better, healthier bees and higher honey yields. But I’m living proof that with almost no work or experience, you can have some success.

I tell you this because I fear all my questions and posts about my first year experience may lead you or others to think honey bees are difficult or take lots of time and effort. I’'m sure the more time and effort you spend the more successful you would be, but I want it known that with almost no effort or time you can probably do ok…I did. (sorry advanced keepers- I’m not advocating this hands-off approach, just saying its possible. I do want to work harder and improve next year, but I’m amazed that with as little as I did I still had lots of bees and a good deal of honey)


#9

That’s a nice looking setup Brady. I was reading about those sandwich style blocks. They look like they would be easy to take apart and clean. And with a router you could make them yourself.

Lois, thanks for the lesson on Mason Bee life cycle. I really don’t understand biology and I find it incredibly interesting that the bee can hatch and be fully grown and spin themselves up and survive all summer, fall, and winter. And I guess you are right by the time the bees seem to disappear everythign has stopped blooming anyway.

Kevin, I’ve followed your bee keeping story all summer long. It’s been an enjoyable read. It’s something that I’ve thought about as a longer term project but just haven’t been able to commit to it just yet. I may try it down the road but I know that it’s cost prohibitive when compared to Mason Bees and I was reading earlier that Mason Bees are vastly more efficient as a pollinator versus honey bees. Something I read said Mason Bees were 95% efficient while honey bees were only 5% efficient. So it ultimately takes far fewer bees to do the same work as honey bees. The downside is no honey :frowning: As most of you can probably tell I’m man of a hundred hobbies! Unfortunately that means I usually can’t perfect them or run out of time trying to complete them. lol. So I think I’ll start with Mason Bees and see how it goes.


#10

I completely understand and my lack of true devotion to my honey bees is in large part due to my own habit of having more hobbies than time! And I must say that I was a little disappointed that in spite of my honey bee colony only a few feet away, I didn’t see many of them on my watermelon or other garden blooms, so you may be right about pollination. I also see lots of mason bees in my trees and garden blooms, btw. Didn’t even know what they were until I got into honey bees.

I just wanted you to know that just because I seemed to struggle with my honey bees and have problems and ask lots of questions, it doesn’t mean honey bee keeping is as hard as I made it look. I honestly put less than 8 hours of work into my honey bees ALL YEAR LONG and still managed to have a good population and get a few quarts of honey. Again, I’m not suggesting that’s how it SHOULD be done, but wanted you and others to know it CAN be done with very little effort.

Good luck with Mason Bees. I look forward to watching your experience.


#11

I think those blocks in sections are the way to go - although you have to be careful not to let them get wet and warp [she says from experience]

Planning to order another block from Crown this year

I did try the plasticky blocks once, the bees mostly knew better than to use them and the few that were used got moldy

I find that the worst problem is the parasitic wasps, but they can be thwarted by removing the bees from the outside as soon as they cocoon - which is by design when the wasps show up to attack them

This is tricky timing because moving the larvae early can keep them from feeding and developing


#12

I had the same experience, even though there was a hive of like 10,000 bees right in my garden, I would go weeks on end without seeing a single honeybee on a single flower in the garden!


#13

Can anyone speak on the ideal location for a colony of Mason bees? Ive read south facing. What about distance from orchard. I have 18 trees but they are tightly spaced and fenced. Pretty much BYOC. I’d like to stick the house on top of a fence post facing south. But I’m curious about overheating.


#14

They need a roof overhang for protection from rain

I keep mine in an old white mailbox, that reflects heat so it doesn’t build up too high

ETA: one year I kept some on the edge of a trellis, but the squirrels got into them over the winter


#15

I cut a 2x4x10 into 6" pieces and drilled four 3/8 holes down each. I plan to insert rolled parchment paper into each hole then screw on the back. This will be my first year at it. My question is whether bee purchase is necessary. I’m leaning toward trying to attract local bees around the time of my apple bloom. I’m interested in others experiences with attracting local bees especially in the deep south.


#16

That’s very similar to my plan. I plan to buy some bees. I thought about taking a chance and hoping local bees populate the house buts it’s too much of a risk. I’m afraid that if I don’t purchase any bees and if none show up I’ll be completely out of luck this spring and I’ll have to wait another year. So I’ll purchase a small amount just to be sure that I’ll have some.


#17

That’s interesting as I’ve read that the bees aren’t fully developed until around September so it’s suggested that if you remove the cocoons for fridge storage you should’ve do it until at least September or October. One of the suggestions A couple of suggestions I saw on youtube were to remove the bee house and place in a more secure location once bee activity stops and the other was to place the bee houses in screen mesh to prevent wasps from accessing the cocoons. This would be quite easy with a block house. You could just staple mesh over the front of the house.


#18

I’m also interested in getting mason bees to help with pollination. I plan to set up a few nesting areas and see if I can attract the native bees. The nest are simple enough to discard and replace after 2-3 years to prevent disease buildup. Below is a good link for details.


#19

Thanks Bill. I think I’m going to experiment a little. I’m going to build a main nesting box in addition to a few smaller ones that I will place a various locations. I’ll only release the bees I purchase at the main nesting box and will leave the smaller boxes unoccupied to see if any bees end up populating them. I saw a few mason bees in my orchard last spring so I know they are around.


#20

I’m hoping that the mason bee are active in cooler weather than honeybees. My Orient and Kieffer pears are the first to bloom but the temperature is not warm enough for many pollinating insects. I hand pollinated last season but I would prefer the mason bees take over this job.