It seems everyone these days is renting out spare rooms and cottages for guests over the summer to make a bit of extra income, you’ve probably thought about it yourself right? Well, West Coast Gardeners, how about making the perfect Air Bee&Bee for our little friends the Mason bees? (Trust me, much less work! No wet towels, damage deposits or remodelling required.)
Why rent to Mason bees?
First of all, you may ask me why Mason bees? There’s quite a few reasons why these insects make the perfect guests, not the least of which their small size and general quiet nature. In fact Mason bees are very shy, the males aren’t able to sting at all and the females rarely do. This makes them perfect for the garden area, especially in urban centres. (Mason bee garden cottage guesthouse?)
You can tell the males by the white spot on their heads (which resembles a Tom Selleck mustache…) These little insects are wonderful pollinators, and with the decline of the bee population at the moment, we need more of our Mason bee friends to help us out.
This is especially true if you have any fruit trees or bushes in your area, as Mason bees are super helpful in growing larger and more plentiful produce. In fact, Mason bees carry more pollen and nectar around than honey bees and are actually better cross pollinators.
Quiet and easy-going, a perfect guest!
Unlike honey bees which form a hive with all of their friends, Mason bees are more introverted and prefer to live alone. (No surprise late night parties!) You’ll find a few females nesting together for better protection, but it’s a small number.
Another way they differ from their honey bee cousins is that the solitary Mason bee does not make honey. Actually only 5% of the world bee species make this delicious treat, so Mason bees aren’t so odd. This translates into way less work for you as a beekeeper, as your main goal will be to keep the nest safe and clean (rather than trying to get honey out of the carpet after a long weekend).
Don’t worry about the matching linens or a jacuzzi!
Have I convinced you yet? We have a variety of great Mason bee houses at West Coast Gardens, but if you’re not in the Surrey area you can check out your local garden centres.
At first they look a bit strange, as their main feature is a dozen or so little tubes at the front. These are where the female mason bee lays her eggs, separating the eggs in each tube with a clay seal before moving on to the next one. (No need for big windows or king size beds.)
Your first step is to put up your Mason bee friendly house in your yard and officially open your Air Bee&Bee. Luckily Mason bees aren’t looking for a five star rating and don’t care about wi-fi (wi-fly?) or a fancy muffin basket. What they really need is a home that is protected from wind and rain, so make sure to hang your Mason bee house under some kind of overhang.
As well, placing it facing south or east is best so it can get the morning sunshine. (Who doesn’t like waking up to sunshine through the window?)
How to attract occupants to your Air Bee&Bee
The next step you need to take is decide if you want to bring in your own Mason bee cocoons or put up an ad (with those photos that make the rooms look larger than life) and wait for occupants to find you.
There are plenty of wild Mason bees roaming the area, as they are native to BC. However, your chances increase dramatically for getting occupants if you purchase your own cocoons.
Place them near (or on) your new Mason bee house in Spring when the flowers start to blossom. The warmth will wake them up fast and they will emerge from their cocoons looking for a safe place to stay.
Pool side service and a mud mask
If you want your Mason bees to stay in your yard, rather than a competitor's decked out airstream or converted garage, there are a few things the bees will need. A small tray with water is important. Add small stones to it, then fill it up so that the tops of the stones are still dry, so the bees have a place to land and drink. (They aren’t into the swim up bars.) As well, the females use clay to build their nests and separate their eggs in the hollow tubes, so you don’t need to worry about your bed-sheet thread count in this guest house. Instead make sure there are bare patches of earth near the home, or simply leave clay nearby, so it’s easy for them to find.
Creating an all day buffet for your guests
Since these guys don’t like to travel long distances to get food, it’s important that you plant flowers nearby that they like to eat. (All day buffet anyone?) Flowers that attract the honey bees will also attract Mason bees, including: foxglove, heather, chives, lavender, sunflowers, borage, coneflower and cosmos.
For more ideas about what plants attract bees (mason and honey bees) read our article on honey bees over here.
Your Mason bee guest cottage will be busy in the spring, but the females die in the summer time after laying all of their eggs. That’s when you have to bring your Air Bee&Bee indoors for the winter, somewhere warm and dry like the garage.
Have fun watching your Mason bees go from cocoon to bee to more cocoons every year. You’ll be helping to grow the population of pollinators in BC and keep your garden blooming!