Mason Beekeeping

Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia Lignaria)
     An unfortunate part of the recent popularity of honey beekeeping is a high drop out rate of new beekeepers within the first few years because of the significant commitment of time and money.  For those of us who whether the storm of diseases, pests and colony losses it can become a life long obsession and love. For others an easier, cheap alternative (minus the honey) is to provide homes for native pollinators.
     While I am a keeper of honey bees, I also house mason and leafcutter bees in my garden. The mason bees also known as Osmia Lignaria are an important, native spring pollinator in our area of the world.  I've found them actively foraging at temperatures a few degrees cooler than honey bees which is important for early spring fruit pollination.  For many crops our native bees are better pollinators than honey bees and require far fewer bees.

     They make nests in reeds or natural holes and utilize mud to space their cocoons. While there is an endless variety of homes that you can make or purchase for your mason bees the important thing is that the inner nesting tube be accessible to clean and harvest the cocoons. Without the ability to access and clean the nesting area it would soon become filled with debris, mold, diseases (i.e. chalkbrood) and predators (i.e solitary wasps).

Native pollinator homes should have some shelter from weather and face east or south to catch the early morning sun
     I make my mason bee houses by simply drilling half inch holes in 6 inch deep wood.

     I use plain, unbleached brown paper from grocery bags rolled around a tent pole as liners which brings the finished diameter of the hole to the optimal 3/8 inch.  The rolled liners extend 1 inch out the back and are folded over with a back wood plate screwed on.  When harvest time comes I just unscrew the back plate and pull out the paper liners (Paper Liners That Work).  You can winter your cocoons in the fridge and release them in the spring. 

Mason Bee Cocoons
     For more information on how to manage Mason Bees for your home or farm go to the Native Pollinators section of our Library and scroll down to Mason Bees.

Good Book
How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee
     If you are just starting out you can buy cocoons off Craigslist for about 50 cents a cocoon and from some garden stores for $1 per cocoon.  Good sources of supplies and information for mason and leafcutter bees are Crown Bees  and Beediverse.  Good luck.