A few years ago I had a beehive in my backyard, containing 40,000 honeybees. After three years of dutifully caring for my buzzy friends, I noticed that they were not returning to the hive like they used to. After a few weeks, I was very disappointed to find that my hive was nearly empty. Then, one morning, I went out to check on them and saw thousands of bees flying around the hive. My first thought was “Wow, they somehow all came back!” But when I walked over to find out what was going on, a much grimmer picture emerged…
My bees were being attacked by other bees! After an hour of this onslaught, the couple hundred remaining bees from my hive were dead and the attacking swarm had left. Unfortunately, this is not an uncommon occurrence nowadays. Honeybees are compulsive hoarders. If a neighboring swarm finds a weak colony nearby that has plenty of honey accumulated, they’ll go after it. They’ll enter the hive, kill the resident bees, rip open the honey-filled cells, fill their own stomachs with honey, and leave.
Colony Collapse Disorder
Colony collapse disorder is largely believed to be caused by pesticides, which affects the bees neurologically, confuses them to the point that they’re unable to find their way back home…and eventually kills them. In our area, colony collapse disorder kills about 30% of all hives. So, mathematically, if you only have one hive, you’ll start over every 3 years. I decided that these odds are not good, so I disassembled, cleaned, and sold my hive and equipment. I then harvested the honey that was left from this last year (what was left behind by the robbing bees), which amounted to 40 pounds.
Native Bees of North America
Honeybees are not actually native to North America, but were introduced by European settlers in 1622. So who did all the pollination before?
There are 4,000 species of native bees in North America, with 300 species living in our area. One group of these bees are called mason bees. They don’t live in colonies or build hives, but are solitary and non-aggressive, and they’re excellent pollinators for our gardens. They have a similar lifestyle to carpenter bees, but are not able to drill their own holes. In our area, the most common mason bee is the Blue Orchard Bee (Osmia ligneria).
Super-Easy Mason Bee Hotel
If if we build them a home, they will come. Last year, I found an untreated 4” x 4” wood post in my scrap pile. I cut it to about 1 foot long with one end slanted, drilled some 5/16” holes on one side (not all the way through), added a roof with some other scrap wood, and hung it on a fence post in early April. By Memorial Day, every hole was filled and sealed, with mason bee eggs inside.
So this year, I decided to build them another home. I found some 2” x 4” scraps of wood and also some leftovers from building our cold frame the other day. Additionally, I cut some phragmites from a local field and picked up some pine cones, to offer a variety of nesting opportunities.
These instructions are only guidelines. You can come with your own design, materials, etc. One important thing, though, is the size of the holes. The optimal hole diameter for mason bees is 5/16”. If you make them smaller, they won’t fit. If you make them bigger, larger insects might take over, and woodpeckers will be able to break open the seal easier once the tunnel is filled, to access the eggs/larvae inside.
Hang your Mason Bee Hotel on a south-facing, sunny fence post, at a height of about 5 feet. These bees also like a source of water and dirt nearby, to be able to make mud for sealing their eggs in the holes.
I leave my bee house out all winter and replace it the next year, in order to avoid any kind of diseases and/or mites. There are ways to reuse your Mason Bee Hotel year after year, which involves inserting paper tubes in the holes and removing them in fall to collect and store the cocoons over winter. If you’re interested in keeping your hotel for several years, here’s an excellent source for further reading: https://thehoneybeeconservancy.org/2017/12/09/bee-hotels/
Now, go to your wood scrap pile, grab a couple pieces, start up the saw and drill, grab a hammer and a couple nails, and in less than an hour you’ll have you own Mason Bee Hotel! Please share photos of your Mason Bee Hotel designs!
Here are a few more of our yard & garden articles you may enjoy:
- Leave the Leaves
- Building a Bird House
- Your Best Garden Buddy – The Earthworm
- From Firewood to Fertilizer
- Make a Coconut Birdfeeder
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