Introducing Mason Bees to the Urban World April 05, 2016 11:50

After a long winter of hanging out in the fridge, this past weekend we prepared the mason bees to get out into the world and fly free. Living in the concrete jungle, very close to the highway in East Vancouver, my housemates and I are pretty aware of how fragmented habitat for bees and pollinators can be. For this reason, we did a bunch of research to try to provide habitat that is as hospitable and abundant with as many resources as possible.

Blue Orchard Mason Bees

Here are few tips we learned to help blue orchard mason bees thrive:

1. Food: Make sure there is food close by and available all through the seasons! Unlike honeybees who will travel within a radius of 2km to find food, mason bees stick within 100m of their nesting site! So, it's important to be sure you've planted enough beneficial flowers that will bloom from early spring into summer. At the beginning of spring, mason bees will enjoy dandelions, daffodils, fruit tree blossoms (also great for your trees to have mason bees associated with them!), cranberry, heather, primrose, hazelnut, and foxglove. Mid-season plants mason bees love include, raspberry, yarrow, willow, lavender, sunflower, dahlia, chives, blackberry and catnip. Some late season plants they will be sure to benefit from are sedum, golden rod, borage, squash, cosmos and aster. 

2. Shelter: Though you can very easily make a mason bee house, I've been super busy these days and have proven to not make the time to do so. So I went out and bought a couple with pre-rolled cardboard tubes. You can drill holes into some wood and roll up old toilet paper roles to accomplish the same thing. 

The shelter should be placed in a warm spot facing East. This spot should be protected from rain, and also exposed to the morning sunshine. 

Mason bee Nest

2. Water: Make sure mason bees have access to a little pool of water to stay cool. Place some rocks in a bowl and fill it with fresh water, but not too high as to cover the rocks completely. You want to make sure the bees can safely land on them without drowning.

4. Clay: Mason bees use clay to make their walls. Beekeeper Brian Campbell told a story of how one year his mason bees found construction-grade sand to build their walls instead, which the new bees couldn't chew through the next spring. So from his experience, we made sure to get some clay to place close to the nest as well.

After we set this all up, it was time to bring out the bees! This was probably one of the cutest things you can witness. The bees we got from Brian at West Coast Seeds, started to emerge immediately as I brought them outside. This is probably related to the fact that it was pretty sunny and warm morning, and the drastic change of temperature encouraged them to come outside. I placed the bees close to the nest and watched them chew the cocoons and push their fuzzy bodies out. So very cute. When I listened carefully, I could actually hear their chewing. I imagine this would be a great experience for kids to witness too.

Mason Bee Coccoon

So that's it. The beginnings of how to help create habitat for the native blue orchard mason bee! Good luck!


by Kelsey Cham Corbett
April 5th, 2016