One mason bee can pollinate as many blossoms as 100 honey bees!
In our race to “save the bees,” it’s time to stop and think about which bees we need to be saving.
While most of the focus is on the ever-popular-for-obvious-reasons honey bee, entomologist Gwen Pearson points out that the non-native, heavily domesticated honey bee is the least of our concerns. It is globally distributed and not endangered.
But is the honey bee the best bee for pollinating our gardens and protecting our food security? No, she says.
It’s the other nearly 4000 species of native American bees, most of which are far more efficient pollinators, that we need to worry about. Among those are mason bees, one of the most efficient pollinators in the world.
One mason bee can pollinate as many blossoms as 100 honey bees, which means more fruit, vegetables and flowers growing in your garden.
Even better news, mason bees are far easier to raise and far gentler than honey bees. They pretty much never sting! They can also do their work in cooler temperatures than the honey bee, making them useful across the continent.
Like the majority of native bees though, mason bees are in serious danger. Native, wild bees are far more affected by the infamous neonicotinoid pesticides than honey bees. In an experiment with a neonicotinoid-treated canola field, honey bees stuck around, bumble bee colonies grew more slowly, and solitary (non-hive) bees, like mason bees, disappeared completely.
Here’s how you can help save the bees that will help save you:
Tips for attracting mason bees from Mother Earth News:
1. Late-spring-blooming plants. Grow plants that bloom in late spring (penstemon, roses) after local fruit trees finish flowering, to extend the foraging time for mason bees.
2. Mud. If the weather is dry, provide a shallow pan of mud near your water source. Mason bees prefer mud made from clay soil.
3. Holes. Most mason bees nest in holes made by woodpeckers or other insects. If your property includes woods, leave dead trees standing to accommodate this food/habitat chain.
In orchards or suburban environments, mason bee populations can be doubled by using man-made nesting boxes full of tubes. However, some native species prefer to make nests in the ground. If you have a spot that gets morning sun that can be kept un-mowed, you have a perfect site for a native bee nesting area.
The Honeybee Conservancy provides more detailed info, if you want to get serious about raising mason bees:
1. Bee Housing. Place your house with nesting material facing the early morning sun. The warmth wakes your bees earlier to start pollinating. Follow the setup instructions.
2. Mud. The Mason Bee seals each egg with mud. If she can’t find soft mud to carry in her tiny mandibles to the nest, she’ll leave your yard and set up her home elsewhere. This is the number one problem people face. Read the mud section for tips.
3. Harvesting cocoons. The number of bee cocoons should double each year. This means you can help increase the mason bee population across North America! Just send your excess bees to CrownBees, who will trade you for free nesting material, and they will re-home your bees with other gardeners!
Find out how to harvest so you get more bees for next season.
RELATED: E.U. Bans ALL Bee-Harming Pesticides