Honeybee populations are down, but the Mason bee is more than qualified to handle the pollination duties. The bee is a metallic blue-black color, and about a half-inch long. They are native to North America and will pollinate anything, but their specialty is collecting pollen from fruit trees.
Dave Hunter is the owner of Crown Bees in Washington state. He says Mason bees are super inefficient. They belly-flop onto a flower, carry the pollen loosely on their abdomen, and it falls off everywhere. And that’s a good thing.
"The pollen falling off everywhere in an orchard situation, we’re seeing about 400 Mason bees equal about a hive or two hives, about 30,000 honeybees," says Hunter. "We’re also finding wherever we do this with these 400 Mason bees, farmers are getting significantly higher yields whether it’s strawberries, cherries, peaches – it’s a different type of pollination that people aren’t used to."
I have a teardrop-shaped bamboo nesting box with bamboo tubes inside. Each female bee finds her own tube, fills it with the next year’s generation, and seals it with mud.
You can buy Mason bee nests, or make your own. The holes, or tubes, should be five-sixteenth-of-an-inch in diameter, and six-inches long.
"We’ve got cardboard tubes, we’ve got reeds, or we’ve got wood trays that you rubberband together and pull them apart, and there’s all your cocoons there," he says. "And these holes, they actually belong in a house whether it’s a bucket turned on its end or a beautiful wood house, we’re trying to keep the holes dry. These holes are facing morning sun, the bees like that morning sun to get going."
Since they emerge early in the spring, Hunter recommends leaving the dandelions and clover so the bees immediately have something to go to.