Mason Bees: Science in Your Own Backyard

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Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

Joey from Made by Joey is with us today to share the amazing process of keeping Mason Bees in your own backyard…

Now that the weather is beginning to warm up it’s time to get outside and explore nature! Mason bees are a fun way to explore insects right in your own backyard.  They are native to North America and are a very docile bee that do not tend to sting.  The males do not have a stinger and the females will only sting if trapped.  This provides a perfect opportunity to safely explore the bee life cycle with children.

Orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria propinqua)
Orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria propinqua)

The Mason Bee Life Cycle

Spring:  When the weather starts to warm up in the Spring (mid March) you will start to see newly emerged mason bees flying about your garden.  This is the time that the males and females mate and the females are looking for a location to lay her eggs.  Putting up a mason bee home is an excellent way of collecting free cocoons and continue your studies in the Autumn!   The female bees will lay eggs in the home until the end of Spring(mid June), and then they will die.

Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

Summer:  After one week the eggs will hatch inside the home and the larvae will feed on the pollen and nectar that the Mama bees packed inside the tube.  In late June the larva then spins a cocoon and begins to develop into an adult bee inside the cocoon.

Autumn:  In the Autumn(October) you can then get a close up look at the cocoons that the bees have made inside the tubes.  Using a mason bee scoop, clean the tubes and cocoons and store in a container in the refrigerator until the following Spring.  The cocoons need to hibernate for 6 months.

Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

The following Spring:  When the weather is a consistent 14°C (57°F) and there are lots of blossoms bursting with pollen, you can start to put out your cocoons for them to emerge.  Protect the cocoons by putting them inside a small box with a 8mm(5/16″) hole at one end.  When the bee emerges from its cocoon it will follow the light and come out of the hole for you to observe!   The males bees are the first to emerge.

Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

Types of mason bee homes:

There are several types of mason bee homes available to purchase or you can build your own.  The home itself can be made from untreated wood or something as simple as plastic pipe.  Inside the home are tubes for the female mason bees to enter and lay their eggs.  These tubes can be made from wood, plastic or paper.  The wood and plastic tubes can be reused year after year.  The paper tubes must be replaced every year.

Learning materials to use with your children:

Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

How to build a mason bee home with viewing boxes

I have also designed some free printable materials that you can use with your children or students.

Books on Mason Bees:

Links to interesting videos and websites:

Mason Bee Life cycle: (excellent photos of each stage)

Mason Bees: Science in your own backyard

I hope that your family takes advantage of this amazing opportunity to observe and learn about nature up close.  I have only touched on a few topics that can be incorporated into your lesson, there is so much more to learn!  If you are not able to put up a mason bee home at your home, I suggest looking up public gardens in your area that may have them, and go take a peak!

*Thanks to the Horticultural Centre of the Pacific and to Hutchings Bee Service for allowing me to photograph their bees.

 

Joey

Joey Van Oort enjoys coming up with new and exciting ways to unleash her inner creativity. As a longtime stay-at-home / work-from-home mom, she’s here to share her artistic inspiration and ideas with others all over the world. When she’s not elbow-deep in an artistic endeavor, she enjoys blogging at Made By Joey about her family’s creative lifestyle in Western Canada, where she lives with her husband and two children.

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  1. Thank you for this wonderful idea! Any idea on how to ensure Mason bees find this home, rather than other, unwanted guests? Is this type of home specificly attractive to only Mason bees?

    1. Hi Cara!
      Mason bees are native in N. America so you will likely find mason bees anywhere there are pollinating plants. I’m sure if you put up a home they will find it! There are a couple of other types of insects that may lay eggs in your mason bee house but they are easily identifiable when you remove the mason bee cocoons in the Autumn and can be discarded then. Good luck!

  2. This is such a neat idea. I have always wanted to have bee boxes, but living in an apartment and not having a backyard (much less renting) I just haven’t been able to do that. I have never thought of doing it ‘small scale’ just to observe and learn about them. This is a fantastic idea and looks like it is pretty inexpensive to get started. This would be a great primer for bigger boxes in the future for our family. Thanks so much for sharing. I posted this on facebook and am going to keep it in my bookmarks for future reference. Love it.
    Sarah M

    1. Hi Sarah! We’re in a similar situation but do have an area to container garden. Our mason bee home is more for our own enjoyment and learning but it does also help the neighbour’s fruit trees! Unless you are trying to pollinate an orchard you can keep your mason bees “small scale”. Their purpose is for pollination only as they don’t produce honey, but with so many honey bee colonies being destroyed we need to ensure that the mason bee population is strong! Thanks so much for spreading the word! ~ joey ~

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