The sun is starting to hang around longer, which means it’s time to begin preparing our gardens. As we make our gardening plans, you might want to consider bringing in some extra helpers to make this year’s harvest bountiful: mason bees.
Mason Bees: The Master Pollinators
Whether you have fruit trees, a vegetable garden, or flowers, these bees will ensure you get the most out of what you are growing. While much attention has been paid to the honey bee, it is important to note that mason bees are exceptional pollinators without the wax, honey, swarm or sting. It has been estimated that a honey bee can pollinate about 5% of the flowers it visits, whereas the mason bee pollinates about 95% and visits twice as many flowers! This pollination is crucial to growing vegetables and fruit and can help ensure a much greater yield in your garden.
Mason bees are considered gentle bees and aren’t known for stinging. Good news for those of us who have allergies.
A New Kind of Hive
I sat down with author and mason bee expert Sherian Wright, who shared with me all the ins and outs of the mason bee. Here are her tips to make mason bees a part of your backyard habitat.
#1 Build a Basic Bee Block
Mason bees do not create their own nesting spaces. They search out any nook that has been left behind by other insects or you. This block will be an invitation for the bee to set up home in your yard:
1. Use a 6x6 or 4x4 block, cut to desired length.
2. Drill 5/16 inch holes at 3/4 inch spacing. Don’t drill all the way through. If you do, you will need to add backing.
3. Tap the block to clear the saw dust out of the holes.
4. If you want to hang the box, attach either a hook or another piece of wood with a hole drilled in it.
Visit Wright’s website for diagrams and more detailed instructions.
#2 Box Location is Important
Find a place in your yard that will be protected from rain and where the block will get the morning sun. This will ensure that your pollinator is kept dry and the bees wake up earlier, ensuring more flowers are visited.
#3 Place Bee-Beneficial Flowering Plants in Your Garden
Flowers in the ultraviolet spectrum are their favorite. They see them easily and can gather lots of nectar from them. A couple of the bees’ favorites are red-flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum) and Douglas aster (Aster subspicatus).
When to Start
You’ll want to put your bees out during the month of March. The males are the first on the scene, but these are not your key pollinators. They are necessary for reproduction of more female bees (the female can still produce males without fertilization), so be sure to have plants that support their food needs. The females will begin arriving around April, and in the month that follows, you will see the difference these bees will make in your garden.
Where to Get Bees
If you’ve seen mason bees in your garden in the past, it should be as simple as putting up a box. But if you want to be sure to have them in your yard this spring, head to one of your local Portland suppliers. Be sure to call ahead, as some of these places may have sold out of mason bees.
This store offers all your bees and supplies. Be sure to check out their class schedule. The classes are taught by experts who can help you get started and answer all of your questions.
3926 N Vancouver Avenue
Portland, OR 97227
Your SE bee connection! Knowledgeable and reputable, Naomi’s can offer you lots of tips to keep your bees happy.
2500 SE Tacoma Street
Portland, OR 97202
Bees, boxes, tubes…and more. The employees offer a wealth of knowledge on beekeeping and beyond.
1419 NE Fremont Street
Portland, OR 97212
For more tips, visit your local mason bee supplier or pick up a copy of Sherian Wright’s book, “Mason Bees for the Backyard Gardener.”