We want to have a honey bee hive on our homestead but it seems that it may not be possible this year because there is a shortage of bees in Ontario and Quebec. I was telling a co-worker about this and she suggested Mason Bees. I said “What are Mason Bees?” She dug into her bag and pulled out a magazine that had a cool article explaining what mason bees are. Well as usual, Julie and I went off on a tangent and did a whole bunch of research and we decided that our lives wouldn’t be complete until we had Mason Bee homes.
There is ton’s of information available online but here’s a condensed summary.
Mason Bees are somewhat similar in appearance to a fly but are about 50% larger. The males do not have a stinger and the females almost never will sting even when handled. They do not produce honey or beeswax, but what they lack in giving us byproducts like honey and wax they more than make up for in pollination. Mason Bees are extremely good pollinators, and apparently 250 Mason Bees can do the same amount of pollinating as 40, 000 honey bees.
They are a solitary bee – they live alone and not in large hives. This means that every female is a queen. The lifecycle of a male is only a few weeks. They emerge from their cocoon ,wait for the females, mate, then die (at least they die happy). The females then begin collecting pollen and nectar to provision their nest. They lay their eggs on top of the nectar and pollen located in a small hole such as a woodpecker bore hole, a hollow plant stem or a natural hole in wood. They then pack the hole with mud (hence their name) and they repeat this for about six weeks until they too die, leaving the eggs dormant for the rest of the year until the cycle repeats the next spring.
This is the kind of bee we want around our homestead so we’re making a habitat for them. There are commercial versions available but where’s the fun in that?
Here’s how we made two simple mason bee homes using scrap wood left over from furniture building projects.
Next we moved to the drill press and drilled 5/16th diameter holes (this is the recommended diameter hole for the bees) about 2″ deep. A hand drill could be used as well but It would be difficult to get the holes straight (I doubt the bees would mind though).
I sanded the faces of the wood to clean up the edges of the holes and remove the lines from the layout.
Total cost for this project was $0 as there is never s shortage of scrap wood around here. It wouldn’t have been expensive to buy the wood but half the fun is making something from nothing (just make sure the wood is untreated.) The total project time was less than an hour.
We’ll be putting the bee homes out this spring and hopefully some tenants will move in and help us with pollinating our garden. We’ll post an update this spring/summer!