Mason bees – the very best pollinators

By Janet Carroll | Apr 25, 2012
Mason bees can be kept anywhere in the city except areas zoned for apartments or condominiums.

Did you know if you were keeping mason bee nest box colonies on your property, until recently, you were breaking the law?

Bee keeping was illegal in Mukilteo, but the city passed an ordinance last month allowing honey bee and mason bee keeping.

Mason bees are small, resembling a fly with antennae. They are commonly referred to as “gentle creatures.”

This refers to the stinging behavior of most bees. Mason bee males do not have a stinger, and the females will not sting unless in a bind, and at that, the sting is more like a mosquito bite.

They spend their spring days pollinating garden plants, fruit trees, and even the flowering plants in forested areas.

I wanted to have a mason bee colony at my home. I had plenty of plants they could pollinate, but I don’t have enough sun; mason bees need a dry, sunny nest location.

Mason bees nest in a stump or dead tree, under your cedar shake shingles or other places with a 5/16 inch hole. They don’t chew holes; they choose existing ones.

In the spring, the males come out first. When the temperature is consistently warm, the females come out to mate with the males. The males die, and the female starts looking for a nest and laying eggs, all the while pollinating our plants.

When the last eggs are laid, at the end of May or early June, the season is over until the following spring, when the cycle repeats.

If you would like to introduce mason bees, you can buy the bees and mason bee houses at Wild Birds Unlimited in Everett or Wild Bird Nest in Lynnwood. You can even rent them from the “Queen Bee” in Bothell and have the best chance of keeping a “pest free, work free, healthy colony.” Go to www.rentmasonbees.com.

Mason bees take readily to nest boxes if the following conditions are available:

• A dry, sunny spot for the nest box.

• A mud puddle near the nesting box. Mason bees use mud to construct the interior nest walls.

• Plants to pollinate within a 300-foot area around the nest. That’s as far as mason bees go.

European honey bees everywhere have been dying off from colony collapse disorder, limiting critical fruit, nut and agricultural crop pollination.

Our native mason bees are not susceptible to this disorder and are better pollinators because their whole body collects pollen, while the honey bees collect pollen only on their legs.

If you can, start a mason bee colony at your home; your plants will be very happy.

Do research on mason bees before putting up a nest box. Mason bee keeping is not something you should do without a plan.

Go to the Queen Bee’s website above for more information.

Janet Carroll is a member of the Mukilteo Wildlife Habitat Project. After two years of getting landowners to certify their yards as wildlife habitat and conducting educational activities, Mukilteo has been certified as a National Wildlife Federation Community Wildlife Habitat. The group continues their commitment to wildlife by creating and enhancing wildlife habitat in Mukilteo and connecting residents with nature.

For more information on the project, go to www.mukilteowildlife.org, or contact the group at mukilteowildlife@gmail.com or 425-514-5979.

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