The title for this post is taken from a byline for MASON BEE REVOLUTION, a book written by Dave Hunter and Jill Lightner. The Mason bee, a native North American bee, is the hardest working bee on our planet. One solitary Mason bee’s pollination is equivalent to one hundred honeybees’ pollination. In fact, all native bees are hard workers. Unlike the honeybee who will usually only forage when the weather is nice, our native bees will even work in nasty weather. Spring Mason bees increase spring fruit and plant yields. Research shows that solitary Mason bees can double cherry pollination compared to honeybees alone. These tiny Mason bees also increase the number of seeds from annuals for better reproduction next season.
[NOTE: We can save the USA (and perhaps the world) one backyard at a time. If enough people in any given urban area become interested in growing plants and some of the food they eat, these activities will create new markets and also support existing local markets. For one tiny example: If enough people in Garland had a four-foot by 12 foot raised bed, some enterprising soul could create and sell a drip irrigation system that is simple to install. It’s even possible this product could grow into a profitable enterprise that might spread throughout a region or even the entire country.
If half of all the residents in Garland planted only six blackberry bushes, they would have enough for a family of four for the entire year as these berries (an extremely healthy food source) freeze well. If half the residents planted twelve blackberry bushes, they could sell half of these berries to a local blackberry co-op (that would rise up from the need). The co-op in turn would then sell the produce to various kinds of local enterprises that use blackberries as a basis for various food, health and cosmetic products. If enough people became inspired, this entire chain of events could transpire over a period of only three years—from backyard blackberry bushes to local businesses that provide local jobs that in turn support and grow the local economy.]
NORTH AMERICAN NATIVE BEES – Our most efficient pollinators
If we are going to save the world and achieve a local healthy plant-based economy, we must start paying attention to our pollinators and especially to our native bees. Most folks don’t realize that here in North America we have over 4,000 species of native bees. The honeybee is not among them. It came to North America about 300 years ago with European settlers.
With the exception of the native bumblebee, which is social and does make hives and honey, native North American bees are solitary creatures. They make their nests in the ground and in holes. The Mason bees are so called because the females use mud to seal off their egg chambers.
Although we have more than 130 species of hole-nesting native mason bees in North America, two of these solitary native bees are the most popular: 1) The blue orchard mason bee and 2) the summer Leafcutter bee. You can even order these bees online.
The native Blue Orchard Mason bee is an efficient spring pollinator for fruit and nut trees. The native Alfalfa Leafcutter bee is a great pollinator for summer fruit, vegetables and plants.
Male Mason and Leafcutter bees emerge first. They mate with females and then die. It is the lone female’s responsibility to create the protective nesting chamber to lay her eggs.
The female Mason bee builds her nest in existing holes. She gathers a pea-size mound of pollen, lays an egg and creates a chamber often within a tube such as that of a reed. The Mason bees seal each chamber with nearby clay-like mud. One hole might house five to eight egg chambers. (The female lays up to 24 eggs total.) By the end of summer, the new eggs feed off the gathered pollen left in their sealed chamber by their mother and become larvae that then spin protective cocoons in which they hibernate for winter months. The process is quite similar for the female Leafcutter bee; however, instead of mud, the Leafcutter chews up bits of leaves and mixes with bee salvia to form the “mud” to seal the chamber.
More Good News About Native Bees
Solitary native bees are easy to raise and entertaining to watch. An added benefit is their gentle nature. They rarely sting and you don’t need special clothing to observe them and help care for their cocoons. In the rare cases where people are stung, the venom is comparable to a mosquito bit and does not cause anaphylactic shock.
Learn how to raise gentle North American native bees.
Sign up for BeeMail Newsletter for tips, reminders and research.
If you want to see a female Mason bee depositing her eggs, visit the home page of http://LovingGarlandGreen.org .
BUILDING HOMES FOR NATIVE BEES
I’ll keep you posted. Several members of Loving Garland Green are going to try to attract some native bees to the Garland Community Garden as well as to our own gardens at home. In fact, one of our members already has acquired houses and has saved and released cocoons of Mason bees in her garden.
We’ve looked at some of the bee houses for our solitary native bees and have found most of them to be somewhat pricey. Thus, we plan to make some ourselves to see how that works. The photo below shows the basic construction: A Container within a container within a container, within a container, within a container.
The native Mason bee crawls inside these cylinders to lay her eggs. Only one solitary female will deposit eggs in a particular cylinder. The amazing thing is they don't mistake which cylinder is their cylinder. They always return to the correct one. The cylinders are about six inches long and each one will have about 8 eggs in it. The Mason bee, after putting a pollen loaf in a chamber with one egg will seal that egg with mud before laying the next egg. Also they deposit female eggs in the back part of the cylinder and males in the front. Males hatch first. Thus they are waiting near the entrance when the female eggs hatch. The males fertilize the females and die shortly after. One female Mason bee will deposit approximately 24 eggs during her lifecycle. Thus she will use three or four cylinders.
I plan to build a box with one side open as shown below. Then I’ll insert an oatmeal box. Inside the oatmeal box I’ll put larger paper cylinders that I’ve made by rolling paper around a wooden dowel. Inside that cylinder I’ll put paper cylinders that I’ve made by rolling paper around a pencil about four times and taped to hold. The tubes will be approximately six inches long but varying slightly in length, as that is one of the ways the female bee identifies her nest. The oatmeal box will be cut to about 7 inches tall and the box will be about 8 inches deep to provide an overhang. The open sides will face south for morning sun. In addition to the box with the plastic straw, I may create the larger cylinder from paper by rolling it around a larger wooden dowel and taping. I’ll also put some smaller paper straws in the mix. These are for the smaller leafcutter bees.
Mason bee homes need to be put out before the end of April. We will also build a little native clay soil mud box to put near the nest. If there is not mud near by for the female to seal her egg chambers, she won’t nest there. It is recommended for the nest to be placed about five feet seven inches from the ground. Down at the garden, we plan to attach ours to the trellis for the loofah tunnel.
Standard Mason Bee Nest Kit with 68 tubes for $11 from Kinsman Garden.
In addition to the Mason bee home I’m building, I ordered one for $11.95 ($20 with shipping) from Kinsman Garden online. It is shown in the photo above.
The photo below shows one of the thousands of North American native bee homes that can be built. Rohdes, one of our local nurseries here in Garland has various native bee homes for sale.
Rescue Mason Bee Cocoons
You can also carry your protection of these valuable native pollinators further by harvesting the cocoons from these tubes in the fall and storing them in your refrigerator (not freezer) over the winter. To do this you will need a plastic container such as a plastic berry container with a few holes punched in top, and a sponge on the bottom. You will need to put one tablespoon of water on the sponge a month. You can of course leave them in the tubes as this is how nature does it. However, it is likely that not as many will hatch.