While honeybees get most of our attention, there is another bee that is about to go to work before you will ever see a honeybee… the mason bee.
Mason bees hibernate in their cocoons for some nine months before they awake and get back to business. They are the first bees most will see during the season and that “early to work” attitude allows them to get the first “nectar” of the season.
These bees are a bit different in appearance than the honeybee, with a bluish color to them. They are not aggressive at all, so even their attitude is far different than that of a honeybee.
Oregon State University Extension Service horticulturist Brooke Edmunds stated, “Mason bees fill a spot in the season when other pollinators like honeybees are not out. They’re really important for fruit trees, especially in cool, wet areas.”
Most areas populated by mason bees will start to see them making their seasonal appearance come early March. They will start to forage for their food and start looking for new areas that offer suitable nesting places.
Rather than form hives, mason bees look for smaller spaces and crevices where they can live. If you have ever seen a small nest under your siding or cracks on the bricks of buildings, chances are the bees that were there were in fact mason bees.
People that use mason bees in their gardens will often purchase “tubes” of cocoons of these bees and store them in a refrigerator until the normal season for the bee arrives. As their season approaches, the bees can be removed from refrigeration and placed in a spot where the morning sun will hit them.
If you are feeling a little crafty and want to avoid having to make future purchases, the cocoons can be stored again after the mason bee season is over. One of the easier way to do this is to hang the “tubes” and allow the bees to find them. The bees will lay their eggs inside the tubes and you have a new supply of bees ready to go when next winter is over.
If you are just trying to draw the mason bees in to pollinate the plants in your garden, one of the best ways to do so is to plant a fruit tree or two in your garden. Trees such as apples or pear trees will definitely draw them in. They are also fond of cherries and plums.
Keep in mind these bees do not travel far distances typically, so you will need to plant your “bait” tree within about 300 feet of the garden. You should also create a small area of clay mud for them and make sure the area stays moist. If you go through a patch of dry weather, give it a good misting with your hose.