Over the past several years many people have heard about the problems that the honey bee has been facing. Scientist and the such have labeled this problem as Colony Collapse Disorder. And while many people around the world are studying this and debating its cause and what can be done about it. Some have decided that they will raise honey bees, as I have. Others sound the alarm of impending doom that if the honey bee dies we will all starve.
Yes, honey bees are used to pollinate a large amount of the food that we eat. But they aren’t the only animal that does it. They are normally the pollinator that is kept as livestock because as an added benefit they make their own honey. But there are plenty of downsides to dealing with honey bees. First off is the cost involved. It is a lot of money up front to keep honey bees, you need to get hive bodies, protective gear for you and then you need to get the bees as well. There are ways to do it inexpensively, but costs can still stack up. Also, people tend to know what a beehive looks like, some neighbors will flip out if you are living close together. Some will think that bees will start swarming and stinging everyone in sight (it doesn’t happen, but you can’t convince everyone of that).
So, what if you weren’t concerned as much with getting honey from a pollinator. Perhaps you were just looking to have a little help with pollinating. It could be for your crops in the garden, it might be for the orchard you planted. Luckily there is another bee that can help you out in those areas. Prepare to meet the mason bee.
This little flying insect is in a class known as solitary bees. The ones that will be flying about from plant to plant live by themselves. That means that if you see one visiting your garden she is the queen of her colony of one. She is responsible for going out and finding pollen and nectar, defending her home and even taking out the trash. The thing is that is a lot of work for a single bee, so she becomes as efficient as possible.
Since there are not thousands of other to help her she must visit flowers more efficiently, while she may spend less time at each flower she gets more done. She collects flower and nectar from each flower she stops at and instead of trying to get all of it from one plant, she will bounce back and forth to several different plants. This makes her a great cross pollinator.
And if you are worried about stings, this is the bee for you to keep. Each mason bee has her own hole to take care of, so there are no guards. And as she must be efficient with her energy you can get within inches before she even considers thinking of you as a threat. You can get up close, see what is happening, but not need to be donning a veil to visit your bees.
As far as your neighbors go, a mason bee nest is rather small and mostly goes unnoticed. Also, they are much cheaper than a honey bee hive. You will end up spending less time and money maintaining them and not have to worry that your neighbors are concerned for their safety.
So how would you go about caring for these little bees? Simple, the easiest way is to start with tubes that have eggs laid in them and a mason bee box. In the spring hang the box so it will get early morning sun and place the tube in it. The bees will hatch, emerge and start pollinating whatever they can find. In June or so you’ll want to make sure that there is mud nearby so that as the bee lays an egg she can seal it in. Then in the fall you will want to bring the sealed cocoons in to help them thrive.
It can be just about that simple. While I am in no means against having honey bees, I understand that they are not for everyone. But with the rise in urban and suburban homesteaders there is no reason that we can’t all start raising some mason bees to help with pollination. The more pollinators there are out there the more our gardens can produce. And also bees are really pretty cool to watch.