Mason Bees

After months of anticipation, this weekend I decided it was time to hang out the mason bees. These tiny, non-stinging native bees are the earliest pollinators around here. (correction: mason bees *can* sting, but they rarely do, unless you step on them or squeeze them, and then maybe you deserve it?) They’re only active for a few months – usually March, April, May, and barely into June – but they play a really critical role before all the other pollinator species reach critical mass in the spring.

It’s been unseasonably warm, and all the plum and cherry trees appear to be blooming. Even though it’s technically still winter for another three weeks, I’m hoping we avoid more solid cold freezes. (isn’t everyone?) Our last freeze date is technically Mother’s Day – seems like that is a million years in the future. It’s a good thing, too, because I haven’t started a single seed yet.

I pulled the bees out of the fridge where they’ve been sleeping for the past few months. They are packed in cocoons, which are protected by the walls of mud their mother built last summer back when they lived in Oregon, before they were delivered to me in the mail. This keeps them safe from a variety of things, predators, extreme weather, forgotten leftover food growing colonies of aliens in the back of our fridge, etc.

I nestled the straws of cocoons into the Royal House. This will keep them fairly well protected and dry until they break out of the mud walls.

I had a little help from the Chihuahua division of the Mason Bee Inspector Society. She hates it when I put her on top of the rain barrel, can you tell?

I attached the adorable yellow front, which protects from predators like wood peckers. Then I hung the Royal House a little above my head, so we can see the bees coming and going. Now, we wait for them to come out, start pollinating, and create the next generation of bees.

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10 Comments

Filed under bees, urban farming, winter

10 responses to “Mason Bees

  1. andrea

    wait – non-stinging??? they are bees that can’t sting me??? :O it just got interesting.

    • jess s

      yesssssssssss – non-stinging! they are solitary bees (no queen) and they don’t make honey, so they have nothing to protect. but they are good early pollinators. i love them already and they haven’t even hatched yet.

  2. andrea

    also that little house with the yellow bee front is ADORABLE.

  3. Hillary

    Wow. I don’t know anything about mason bees. They are basically just a way to show affection for your local ecosystem?

    • jess s

      The reason people keep mason bees is for better pollination – when the other pollinators are either unhatched, unmetamorphized, suffering from population decline, or just moving slowly. Most of us greatly underestimate how much native bees pollinate, and with colony collapse disorder, we should be doing everything we can to promote them to (try to) compensate for the missing colonies. So, some people keep them just to show affection for the ecosystem, but most people who manage solitary bees have some vested interest in good pollination rates – like gardeners and farmers.

      • Hillary

        That’s so very cool. I keep feeling like you’re just a couple of steps ahead of me on all the gardening stuff. It’s really nice to learn new things from following your blogs.

  4. Mason bees, Osmia lignaria, can definitely sting but seldom do unless they are squeezed or stepped on. As you say, they have no honey stores or hive to protect so they are very gentle. However, it is wrong to call them non-stinging.

  5. How fascinating! When you started your blog with ‘hanging out the bees’ – I was somewhat sceptical! – and then put them in the fridge!! Well!! I will own up and say I know nothing about bees, but enjoy their company, love their buzzing,
    (which gets quite extreme up here in the mountains of Spain), am thankful to them for the job they do, and sincerely hope that someone can find out the reasons for their decline.

  6. Pingback: hello, friends « krista and jess

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