Mason bees are a great choice for hopeful beekeepers who don’t have time or money to invest in honey beekeeping. Mason bees are also the safest and easiest bees to keep, meaning they’re perfect for people with allergies, pets, or children. If you want to help or keep mason bees around your home, this guide will show you how to set up a bee house for them.
What Is a Mason Bee House?
Unlike honey bees, mason bees don’t live in hives. They’re solitary, cavity-nesting bees. This means that they don’t live as part of a colony, and settle into pre-existing holes. Mason bees will settle into any shaded cracks, crevices, hollows, spaces, or tunnels that they can find.
They’re known to live in walls, plant stems, or trunks, tunnels that have been abandoned by other animals or insects, and even in empty shells.
Mason bee houses are manmade and are structured to be as comfortable and natural for mason (and other cavity-nesting bees) as possible. They’re also known as bee hotels. They’re intended as a habitat that provides shelter and a breeding ground for the bees that live inside it.
You can buy mason bee houses pre-made, or you can build your own bee house if you have the right materials. It won’t take too much out of you and very little skill is required. If you’re not good with your hands, don’t worry. Mason bee houses are available commercially and are an inexpensive investment.
Bee houses don’t take up a lot of room. Unlike honeybee hives, you don’t need a vast amount of space to host one. They’re designed to be hung up, so they won’t get in your way either.
Your bee house could have a few components but at its core, it’s a bundle of tubes. The tubes (that the bees will lay their eggs in, and live inside of) are typically made out of bamboo. Some bee houses will have tube liners for extra protection.
These tubes can be held together with elastic bands (or other tethers) and then covered with wooden walls and a roof, or even a basket, wrap or another type of material. Sometimes a bee house is a block of solid wood with tunnels drilled into it.
How to Build a Mason Bee House
There are different styles of bee houses and it’s solely up to you which design will suit you. Here is a look at how to make a basic bee house. You don’t need that many tools, and by the end of it, you will have a sturdy and functional home for your mason bees.
You will need:
- One block of untreated wood (or a log), that is at least four inches thick and more or less 15 inches long
- A drill, that ranges an eighth of an inch to half an inch (and no bigger)
- A saw and a hammer
- Board or scrap metal for the roof—make sure that it’s wide enough to have an overhang of thee to five inches
- Nine one and a half inch nails for the roof, and three two-inch nails for mounting the bee house
- Take your block of wood and saw off one end at an angle. This will form part of the roof, and the slant will allow rainwater to flow off of it easily.
- Use your hammer, and nails to fasten your board or metal as the roof. Following the block of the bee house, this should be attached at a slant. Make sure that the sides and front have a sufficient overhang, otherwise your bee house will still get wet if it rains.
- Drill holes into one side of the bee house (but don’t drill all the way through). Make sure that your holes, which you can drill in any pattern, are between a half an inch to an inch apart. These are the entrance holes for your bees.
- Your bees will not enter if the holes are still rough. Use your sandpaper to smooth them out. Be sure to clear away any sawdust or residue.
- All that’s left to do is to make a way to hang your bee house. Tie either end of your rope into a knot. Use your remaining nails to attach it to the bee house. Hammer your nails in through the knot, on either side of the house.
Your bee house is now complete.
This is not the only way to build a mason bee house. If you want one that is more aesthetically pleasing, you are welcome to experiment. What matters at the end of the day is that your bees are safe and dry.
If you have purchased a commercial bee house you probably won’t have much assembly to do. It’s important that the tubes (which will most likely be separate from the rest of the house) fit tightly inside it.
If you need to, you can insert other materials, like cardboard on either side of the tubes to hold them in place.
How to Install a Mason Bee House
It doesn’t matter if you have built your own bee house, or if you’ve bought a preassembled one. Installing it will be the same. It may be as simple as hanging (or mounting) it up wherever is convenient, but there are a few considerations before you do.
Mason bees naturally nest in shaded areas, so keep your bee house away from harsh sunlight. Don’t place it somewhere too dark though. It’s best to place it so that it faces a southeast direction.
This will give them a good amount of sunlight and warmth in the mornings (in the northern hemisphere), but protect them from heat later on in the day.
To make sure that your bee house doesn’t blow away or get knocked around in the wind, place it against a straight, flat surface. This will keep it sturdy. Don’t forget that the purpose of a bee house is to keep your bees sheltered. Hang it somewhere dry and protected from rain.
Depending on your circumstance, you might want to hang it up high enough so that pets and young children won’t be able to reach it or interfere with it. This will also protect your bee house from some predators too.
Mason bees don’t travel far to forage, so you’ll have to place the bee house within 300 feet of flowering plants, clay soil mud, and a water source. If your garden doesn’t have natural clay soil, you can buy it from a garden center and leave it in a mound, or tray for the bees. Just keep it wet for them or else they won’t be able to build with it.
You can do the same with water. Leave some clean, fresh water in a tray or container that the bees can easily access.
Once you have a suitable environment for your mason bees, you can go ahead and hang their home up. Anywhere that meets these conditions is good, be it along the wall of your house, or in a strong tree.
Remember to hang your bee house so that the tubes lie horizontally.
Check out this helpful video.
Maintaining a Mason Bee House
Keeping mason bees requires very little of your time and attention. All that you really have to make an effort to do is clean out the bee house every once in a while.
Take your bee house down when your bees are not active. If you’re in the northern hemisphere, this will probably be in September. Also, make sure that your bees aren’t in their pupa stage when you clean out the bee house. If they are, the house will be sticky and your interference could result in a damaged or deformed bee.
Before you get to tidying, make sure that there aren’t new cocoons in old or abandoned tubes. Sometimes mason bees will reuse old tubes, and you don’t want to accidentally throw a perfectly good cocoon away. Using a torch or headlight will make it easier to spot the old tubes from the capped ones.
When cleaning out your bee house, you can save the pollen (if any). Make sure that your tubes are safe. Any other debris you find inside the house can be thrown away. You can wipe down your bee house, or sweep it out with a brush if you desire. Just don’t use cleaning agents. This could deter future bees.
Once everything is clean, you can pack your bee house away until you need it again. Restock your tubes if needed.
Storing your tubes is not a fuss. All that you have to consider is that they’re dry, and protected from damage.
When harvesting your cocoons, be careful not to interfere with or harm the female adult that you’ll find inside the nest. Opening up your tubes should be easy. If you have a tray, they can easily be taken apart. You can remove the cocoons using a flathead screwdriver, but be careful and gentle with it. Cardboard and paper tubes can be cut open without any effort.
A big part of maintaining a bee house is keeping the cocoons safe when it’s not in use. You can store them outside, but it’s better to keep them covered, indoors and away from predators.
To keep them cold, you can even store them in your refrigerator. Just make sure that they’ll be dry, and near a humidifier. You can also store them in a box or plastic bag on the condition that it’s well ventilated. If you don’t want to risk keeping them in your fridge, your garage is the next best thing.
Don’t forget to clean your cocoons as well. The popular method for this is to wash them with sand. All you have to do is gently swirl them around in a bowl of dry earth. This helps with removing mites, mud, excrement, and even pollen.
If you have an extreme mite problem you can also clean your cocoons with bleach. Fill a bowl with a bleach solution that is one tablespoon of bleach with eight cups of cool water. Gently mix them around in this for about two minutes. When you’re done, leave them on a towel or screen to dry.
Maintaining a mason bee house is effortless, and you will spend more time observing your bees than taking care of them. If you are good with your hands, you can even build your own one. It’s simple, inexpensive, and rewarding. The bees will appreciate it too.
Keeping a mason bee house is an easy alternative to honey beekeeping. You don’t need any experience or equipment to keep them safe. While they won’t produce honey for you to harvest, you’ll do a good service in considering them. They’re vital to the environment and deserve a little of our time.