While mason bees look similar to honey bees, they behave very differently. The biggest difference between the two is that mason bees are solitary. While honey bees live in a hive with thousands of other bees, mason bees live alone.
Because of the mason bees docile nature, many people have had interest in having a mason bee house in their garden. Buying a mason bee house is easy, but once you get that set up you need to find out where to buy mason bees.
Mason bees are a great, low maintenance bee to raise. If you are looking for where to buy mason bees, the easiest way to buy them is online.
What are Mason Bees?
Mason bees are small, solitary bees that construct nests using mud. That is where they get their name. Mason bees prefer nesting in small dark spaces, like cracks in a wall or hollow stems. They have also been known to nest in holes in wood made by other insects.
Mason bees do not make beeswax, honey, or honeycomb. However, they are excellent pollinators. Female mason bees carry dry pollen on the underside of their abdomen. As she visits flowers the pollen falls off of her body, resulting in pollination. Mason bees will visit many flowers a day.
Life Cycle of a Mason Bee
Unlike honey bees, where only the queen lays eggs, all female mason bees are fertile. Male mason bees emerge from their cocoons first and wait close by for the females to appear. After mating the males die and the females get to work collecting pollen for their nest.
The mason bee creates a provision mass out of pollen and nectar in her nest. She then lays an egg right on top of it. Finally, using mud, the bee closes the cell off and repeats the process until her nest is full. Female eggs are laid towards the back of the cavity, while male eggs are near the front. When she is done with the cavity she will plug up the tube with mud and find another nesting area to lay more eggs.
The larva later hatches and begins to eat the provisional mass. Once it is done eating the larva spins a cocoon around itself to begin the pupal stage. It hibernates until fall, when it will emerge as an adult mason bee.
Reasons to Raise Mason Bees
- Mason bees are exceptional pollinators. You are sure to have a bountiful garden if mason bees are nearby.
- Mason bees are very gentle and rarely sting. You can observe them without any protective clothing, without fear of getting stung.
- It is much cheaper to raise mason bees than honey bees. Honey bees require lots of equipment, where mason bees only need a house and nesting tubes.
- Mason bees are tough. They are less susceptible to disease than honey bees and are even immune to the deadly varroa mite. That being said, there are other pests that plague mason bees, so be sure to change out their nesting tubes every 1-2 seasons.
- By raising mason bees you are doing your part to help save the bees.
Where to Buy Mason Bees
After you buy a mason bee house, you need to know where to buy mason bees. There are 2 ways to get mason bees. You can either set up a bee house and wait for them to come, or you can buy mason bee cocoons.
Mason bee cocoons are typically bought online. There are various websites that sell different types of mason bee cocoons. I recommend Crown Bees, a popular retailer of mason bees. On their website you can easily pick a shipping date for your mason bee cocoons. They recommend picking a date 2 weeks before your first fruit tree is set to bloom.
Crown Bees is a trusted retailer of solitary bee houses, accessories, and bee cocoons. They sell bees for both spring and summer – mason bees and leafcutter bees. The bees come in cocoons that are then placed in or near a bee house to hatch.
Crown Bees also sells different styles of native bee houses. I particularly like Crown Bees Bee Station Kit which comes with a bee house, supplies and bees. Raising solitary bees has never been easier.
The 2 types of solitary bees sold at Crown Bees are Mason bees and Leafcutter bees. Mason bees emerge from their cocoons in early spring, while leafcutter bees emerge in early summer. Both species are excellent pollinators.
Spring Mason Bees
Spring mason bees are 100 times more effective in pollinating than honey bees. Crown Bees sells 20 mason bee cocoons per order and offers free first class shipping. Mason bees are shipped from February – April.
Summer Leafcutter Bees
Summer leafcutter bees are great for pollinating peas, tomatoes, peppers, and squash. Crown Bees sells 200 leafcuttter bee cocoons per order. Like their mason bees, these are shipped first class for free. Leafcutter bee cocoons are shipped May – August.
How to Care for Mason Bees
Caring for mason bees is easy. After your bee house is set up, place the mason bee cocoons into the bee house. The cocoons do not need to be put in the nesting holes. After the bee emerges from the cocoon it will find a nesting hole on it’s own.
Release mason bee cocoons when the daytime temperatures are 55 F or warmer. There should be lots of flowers blooming for them to collect pollen and nectar. Mason bees need mud for their nests, so make sure that there is a source of mud nearby.
Mason bees can be released in 2 waves to make you pollination season last longer. Release half of your cocoons at the beginning of the season and release the rest a few weeks later. Be sure to release all mason bee cocoons by mid May.
Harvesting Mason Bee Cocoons
When the nesting holes are plugged with mud the entire tube can be removed. Place the tubes in a breathable bag and keep them in a safe place. Removing the tubes protects the cocoons from parasites, fungus, and disease.
The cocoons can be removed from the tubes in the fall. There will be mud and debris in the tubes, so sort through everything to find the cocoons. The cocoons should then be washed in a mixture of 1 gallon cool water and ¼ cup bleach. Stir the cocoons in the water for about 2 minutes to kill fungal spores. Remove cocoons and let dry.
Now it’s time to inspect your mason bee cocoons. Remove any c shaped cocoons as they likely have a fungal infection. Also remove cocoons with holes in them as it is a sign of parasitic infection. The remaining cocoons should be refrigerated for storage until you plan on releasing them.
Mason bees are a great, low maintenance bee to raise. If you are looking for where to buy mason bees, I recommend buying online at Crown Bees. You can also harvest your own mason bee cocoons for use next season.