When someone mentions the word "bee," the first thing that comes to your mind is probably the friendly neighborhood honey bee that pollinates your flowers and produces delicious honey. Honey bees are fantastic bees, but they aren’t the only pollinators you should be welcoming into your yard. Mason bees are also wonderful pollinators, and you can easily draw them into your garden by building a mason bee house.
Introduction to Mason Bees
A small mason bee colony can make a great addition to any backyard, mostly because these bees almost never sting (the males don’t sting at all, and the females will only do so only if they’re feeling a great deal of stress). They are typically smaller than honey bees and come in either black or a more metallic-colored bluish-green. Of course, there are some mason bees are even more brightly colored.
Making Your Own Mason Bee House
To make your mason bee house, you'll need a good set of tools on hand. Specifics include a drill with a 5/16" bit, a block of wood for the main part of the hive, a scrap of wood for a roof, wood glue, paint or crayons in several colors, hardware cloth, a staple gun, and a bracket for hanging.
Use the drill to create several (but no more than 25) holes in the main block. Make sure to drill as deep as you possibly can. You’ll ideally want your holes to each be at least six inches deep. Using a drill press can be particualrly useful for keeping your bee tunnels from combining due to sideways drilling, but you can always just use a cordless drill if you don’t have one. Lastly, you'll want to be sure to space all the holes out evenly.
If any of your holes go entirely through the wood, you’ll want to add a scrap piece of wood to the back of the block. This will ensure that your mason bees get the level of protection they need to thrive. After all, they only need the one way in and out.
Once you’re done drilling your holes, take the time to clean them all out, getting rid of any sawdust you encounter as you go. You can usually accomplish this by just lightly tapping the block on the ground, but you can also use a shop vacuum if you want to be extra thorough.
Next, you’ll want to decorate your mason bee house. This step may seem strange, but it actually helps the mason bees remember which bee tunnel is their nesting tunnel. Do this by using a few different colors like blue, pink, and yellow and drawing letters by each tunnel in those same colors.
Once your house has been decorated, you’ll want to apply the hardware cloth to the front of it, curving it slightly away (about an inch) from the fronts of the holes you’ve created. This provides yet another layer of protection for your mason bees and their future brood, as it keeps birds from making your bee larvae a part of their backyard buffet.
Hanging Your Mason Bee House
Now that you’re all finished with your mason bee house, it’s time to find the perfect location for it. You want to find an area that’s facing southeast and gets lots of sunshine. There should also be some kind of protection from the wind around. If you live in an area that sees a lot of really warm weather during the spring and summer months, you may want to consider placing the house in partial shade.
The house itself should be up off of the ground, or at least high enough up that water won’t be able to splash into it when it rains (water inside of a mason bee house can eventually lead to mold). In addition, you may want to add a roof to your final design to prevent water from dripping down into the house.
Use the bracket or straps to hang it up. Just be careful not to harm the home when attaching it.
The larvae laid in your mason bee house may not hatch for two years. Once winter has come, you’ll want to place the entire house into a bucket with a hole in the lid so that the bees can emerge from their nests in the spring. Some people even prefer putting paper straws into each hole so they can continue to reuse the hive year after year. If you decide to do this, you'll just have to take the straws out in the fall with the larvae and put new ones in come springtime.
Mason bees make great garden additions. They sometimes get a bad rap for damaging homes and wood, but they only really take advantage of the spaces they're able to enter. Making your own mason bee house gives them a great place to safely grow their numbers.