For several years now, we’ve heard and talked about the significant and ongoing loss of the honeybee population. It is still a mystery as to why these bees are disappearing, but we are starting to tap into the use of other types of pollinators. One of these types of pollinators is the solitary bee, or Mason Bee.
In this vast world of bees, there are many different types of species. All of these types are classified as either social or solitary. Social bees, like honeybees, live with thousands of others and have very specific job duties. Solitary bees, like Mason bees, spend their entire life living along, and every female bee is considered a queen, so all queens are worker bees.
Today, Joe takes us to meet Dave Hunter in Seattle, WA, who has turned his backyard hobby of bee keeping into a solitary bee business. With the help of like-minded employees, Crown Bee helps increase awareness of mason bees and how they are an alternate pollinator to the commercial orchard and food producers.
As a point of clarification if you make this simple mason bee house: Note the instructions for this house call for 2 pieces of wood for the roof of the house. You really only need the one piece for just the roof. But, the second piece is helpful to place directly on top of the tubes to weigh them down and hold them in place. They are very lightweight and can blow out or shift. The extra weight from the piece of wood resting on top of them helps keep them in place.
Crown Bees – The source for this story and where to find supplies and mason bees
Stark Brother’s Nursery – Our source of choice for the fruit trees and shrubs used on the show and at the GGWTV Garden Farm.
WaterRight Inc – Where to find the hose and wand seen in this episode.
Our sincere thanks for the awesome bee photo used with permission from Kim Phillips
Lois Vanderkooi says
My husband bought me a bunch of reeds to put into the pre-made CrownBee chalet. How do you open the reeds to harvest the cocoons? In Colorado, near Denver, do I put the chalet out in April and do the final harvesting in October before first freeze? Thanks.
Erica Glasener says
Lois, I must admit that I have never personally harvested cocoons from reeds but after reading about it, I would like to. I came across this information that should answer your questions about harvesting, timing, etc. Keep us posted on your progress and keep growing a greener world. https://crownbees.com/harvest-cocoons
Martha Shelton says
I want to get email to know what to do at each time of year to promote mason bees. In the fall should I bring the paper tubes into a sheltered area such as my garage?
Dave Hunter says
That Bee-Mail newsletter sign up is found on this page within Crown Bees: http://crownbees.com/beemail. I’m glad to hear you ask about it. We enjoy writing it!
Richard Hammaker says
would like to get started ,info on how to build boxes & what to do? Thank You. Dick
Dave Hunter says
The latter part of the episode shows how to make your own house and holes. Joe’s solution was perfect. A house keeps the holes dry. Ensure that you have enough hangover, about 2″ or so.
Holes should be able to be opened up to rid your bees of pests. Paper tubes, reeds, wood trays are all great examples. No bamboo or drilled blocks of wood… they become mason bee cemeteries over a period of years. We’d like you successful rather than have you wonder why you lost your bees.
You can buy bees and nesting holes online if easiest for you. (Try out Crown Bees!)
Brad McMichael says
Joe, Are there Mason bees out there already ? I mean if I build boxes for them will they find them? Do I have to buy cocoons? I thought I seen on this episode that if you hang a box they will eventually find it, but I see that people buy cocoons. Great show!
Dave Hunter says
You ask a great question. The truthful answer is “it depends”.
We find less bees in the world due to loss of habitat, toxins in the yard and less pollen/nectar availability. We also have to realize that nature is balanced and some bees work well in one area and not in another.
Picture yourself in a house surrounded by asphalt and grass only. Spring mason bees need good clayey mud or they fly elsewhere. They might have been there in the first place, but aren’t any longer because there’s no access to mud. Your soil is sandy… again, the bees would never have been there because they HAVE to have clayey mud. That’s the spring mason bee.
Other bees later in the seasons need chewed up vegetation, leafy bits (leafcutter bees), resin, pebbles, or a combination of anything to separate their pollen/nectar/egg mass from the next chamber. Most yards have some of these things, and if there aren’t any mason bees around, then it’s very probable the first issues may/may not have the bees (missing pollen, holes, or chamber separation material)
My initial thoughts… Build it and they will come. Place out a variety of hole sizes (5mm-8mm) and about 6″ long. We (Crown Bees) have the “Pollinator Pack” that has this range. See what nests in them. You may find bees or solitary wasps. If you don’t find bees the first year, then order some online. We have both spring and summer bees. Do be careful that you buy bees that are native to your area. We do this… I’m not sure if others are doing this yet.
Lastly, thanks for caring Joe. Welcome to the world of gentle food-making bees!
This will probably sound simplistic but I have tons of bees and butterflies simply from planting native wildflowers. There are so many of them that each flower has multiple bees and butterflies on just one flower. I just turned my side yard into native flowers this spring and the keep coming. It is really fun to watch.
Joe Lamp'l says
Actually it IS that simple. Plant it and they will come. It is amazing and fascinating!
I am a long-time wildlife rehabilitator. I have a few thoughts. Any time we try to redirect or modify Mother Nature, there are always unforeseen consequences… whether honeybees, or solitary bees. There are no simple solutions. And apparently this is still happening. When you play favorites and try to modify nature for the benefit of humans or, with the best of intentions, think you have found a simple solution, it can have consequences. I don’t think you thought this out adequately. You’re “playing favorites,” trying to have a ” designer back yard.” “I want this animal or plant, not that animal or plant.” Trying to redirect Nature is dangerous. Nature isn ‘t that simple. Instead of letting Nature react to the collapse of honeybees and find her own solution, you’re trying to redirect and impose yourself yet again, forcing the issue for her — again compounding the issue. You have to be patient and let her figure it out, on her own time schedule, even if you don’t like what she comes up with and it’s not fast enough for you. I worry about shipping potential vectors for disease, or displacing native fauna. Any time you artificially move in a creature in the wild, something else can be squeezed out, and you can also be causing genetic dilution/contamination. If we are lucky, many of these well-motivated people will fail or give up so there won’t be much environmental impact. I teach people who bring me orphaned, injured or sick wildlife that “any time you try to manipulate Nature, there are ALWAYS unforeseen consequences.” We are still being selective about our “designer back yards.” That’s what got us into trouble in the first place.
Great show with lots of great information. I was inspired to build a house. When I printed your instructions I realized that they do not match the demonstration on the show. The house built on the show had 1 board for the roof. The instructions calls for 2 boards. Can you help?
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Linda. Yes, I see how that is confusing. You really only need the one piece for the roof. But, the second piece is helpful to place directly on top of the tubes to weigh them down and hold them in place. They are very lightweight and can blow out or shift. The extra weight from the piece of wood resting on top of them helps. Thanks for your question. I need to clarify that point!
Kathleen Negron says
We enjoy your show always watch to learn. My husband and I are deaf and the show on tv has closed captions. Imagine our surprise when we came on line, to learn more about Mason Bees, and found your video has no captions! Even U-Tube has automatic captions!
I’m sure this is an oversight and perhaps you can check with your IT/Web Design people to make your website accessible? We look forward to that! Thanks!
Joe Lamp'l says
Thanks for your comment Kathleen. We do recognize that our episodes are not close captioned on our video provider, Vimeo. Unfortunately they do not offer that service and it is cost prohibitive at this time for us to purchase the software that will allow us to add that to our videos. Having said that, we know it’s very important and we are working to raise the funds to do so. As a show entirely supported by underwriting dollars, there never seems to be enough. But rest assured we’ll get that and thank you for your patience until we do. Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.
I have been asked by a garden center to give a presentation about Mason Bees. I found this episode, and Crown Bees is actually where I got my original bees. But this episode freezes on every computer I try to play it on about 7 or 8 minutes in. Is there somewhere I can get the whole episode to play all the way to the end?
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Lynn. The quick answer is yes, we have DVD’s for sale at $12.50 each. I checked the playback issue on my computer and I don’t have a problem playing all the way through without interruption. I suspect it may be a product of the download speed on the networks you are using to try and view this. Let me know if you want to DVD in case. Not sure if they are in stock but email if interested: email@example.com
Robert Hochmayr says
I would like to order Mason Bees. How do I do that. Thanks. Bob
Joe Lamp'l says
Bob, There’s a link in the show notes to the place to do that: http://www.crownbees.com
Deborah Fredericks says
Glenn, may I point out that Osmia bees (a.k.a. Mason bees) are a family rather than a single species? Bees of this clan are native to most of North America, so will already be part of the natural web. That is, they have predators already in the ecosystems and specific habitat needs which make it less likely for them to become invasive. That is, even if someone buys bees from Crown and introduces them to a specific property, they aren’t likely to establish a permanent population if one or two “houses” are present but the habitat is otherwise unsuitable.
So I don’t think we need to begrudge Dave trying to make a living providing alternative pollinators. If anything, it’s just as likely the naturally occurring Osmia bees will move into those structures that suit them and may or may not interbreed with the newly introduced individuals.
As you rightly point out, there are many, many native bees who form an entire community along with wasps, flies, butterflies, beetles and moths. Each of these pollinators fit together in the patchwork, of which Osmia bees are part.
The most important thing in maintaining healthy pollinator communities is to provide the habitats they need, including native flowers and grasses, patches of dirt (many native bees are ground nesters), standing snags, plants with hollow stems, etc.
I am interested in an in-depth response to the issue raised by Glenn Buschmann on this web page (December, 2014) regarding moving Mason bees into new areas and the effect upon the resident bee and other insect populations. This is as always a serious question, as so many problems have arisen by introducing a species to an area where they did not reside previously and the subsequent and unintended disruption resultant therefrom.
So would appreciate a follow up on that specific concern on the Mason bees.
Thoroughly enjoyed this particular program and look forward to the continued success of this show.
Glen Buschmann says
I make my own straws, have done so for years, as well using other systems. Your advice of paper vs plastic is spot on. I’d recommend a couple of modifications that will improve your success.
If you live where there are spring rains, (much of the country), place the tubes you make inside a water-resistant container like a milk carton, and then tip the container forward slightly. Otherwise rainwater almost certainly will wick from the wood into the paper. You may have to bundle the straw with masking tape.
Secondly, do not scrimp on paper. Thicker tubes are more pest and weather resistant. I continue to experiment with different papers. The main precaution, make sure that the paper is not treated or inked — if I use newspaper I line the tube with plain paper so that the pollen does not absorb inks.
Dave Hunter is very passionate … and wants to make a buck, so only tells half the story. His goal numbers are way out of balance. There are in North America 4000 species of bees. This particular mason bee is one of several found that uses similar habits. In spreading them far and wide one can actually make matters worse for some of the other native bees, both because pests and parasites often go with the cocoons, and more important, they can be so successful (a six-fold increase in one year is very achievable) that later cavity-nesting bees are forced out. Instead, place empty tubes — of different sizes and at different times — and see who shows up. It may take a couple of years, but the long-term results better.
My blog has some more pictures and information.
Dave Hunter says
I appreciate that you took the time to comment on Joe’s page. Only through openly airing questions like yours can truths be vetted.
You don’t know me personally, so I accept your criticism as one who sees a for-profit company trying to make a difference to the world as misguided and causing harm. Hurtful, but that’s your opinion.
Let me tell you why and what we’re doing…
Our food supply relies on mostly just the honey bee. While it’s a wonderful honey making insect, it is also in trouble through how we manage it. Nature is fighting back in the form of pests, diseases, fungus, viruses, and other problems. We need to spread our risk out to include other food-producing pollinators. The mason bees are an awesome solution.
There are over 130+ “hole nesting” bees in North America. Each emerges at different times and in different regions. The blue orchard bee, or Osmia lignaria, is found native in all states and provinces other than the gulf states like Florida and lower Mississippi. In discussion with the USDA/ARS/Logan Bee Lab, what we are doing with providing native bees to residents across the nation is acceptable.
I wish that every gardener had a plethora of bees in their backyards. Unfortunately, we’ve killed many through our chemicals or taken away their habitats through removing trees and covering available soil with grass, asphalt, and gravel. Crown Bees is trying to reintroduce bees that are easy to raise and native to their area. Through our Bee Buyback program, we’re exchanging free nesting material in exchange for cocoons from that area. When we rehome these bees, we sell them back to that region only.
Our goal is to help increase numbers in regions so that excess cocoons can be then used in nearby farms for their pollination of fruits.
Regarding pests and parasites shipping everywhere… We do all we can to educate people on how to eradicate most pests. The three predominant pests the mason bees see are pollen mites, mono, and chalkbrood. Through cleaning each cocoon thoroughly we can get rid of the mites and chalkbrood. Through diligent inspection, we can catch most mono-filled cocoons, though admitably, it’s hard to be 100%. Mono is found in most all states already. Other diseases that impact the honey bees aren’t found today in mason bees.
Your last comment on the mason bee forcing out other bees is interesting. I believe that the blue orchard bee is the earliest emerging bee, and thus, one of the best for our early blooming orchards. While it does fill its holes with pollen, it’s sloppy pollen-gathering method leaves much pollen behind. This makes it a wonderful pollinating bee. To think that it strips a yard of all available pollen so that “later cavity nesting bees are forced out” suggests that you might not understand how pollen is produced.
Pollen is produced each day by each flower. While that flower is in bloom it continues to produce pollen until the flower is dead. Thus, bees will have pollen each day as they continue to visit the same flower. Bumble bees will follow the same circuit each day as they gather their pollen…
Since the blue orchard bee is only active in the early spring, there is plenty of pollen throughout the growing seasons for other cavity nesting bees…
You suggest placing out empty tubes of different sizes. I completely agree with this practice. Be successful. Find the 4mm-9mm bees that use these holes. As we find these bees, and rehome them to other gardeners in the same region, we can add more bees back to our environment. Having a company do this ethically, to ensure that good practices occur, pests are removed as best as possible, should be a welcome company.
Regarding bees that strip pollen so that other bees are starved and move away… learn more about the honey making bee. They are known to researchers as “pollen pigs”. They are so efficient at gathering pollen there is little left behind for any of the native 4,000 bees. Because the honey bees are the media darling of today, they get the most press and we find more hives raised. I believe this wonderful bee does much of the damage you allude to with their efficient pollen gathering characteristics. A few hives are ok. Nature has them naturally at 1 hive per 1/2 mile.
If you’d like to debate with me further, please reach out to me directly through our website. I wish you well with raising bees Glen. We need them for our food and flowers around us.
Lee Brumley says
Hello Joe, Not since the early Victory Garden series with Jim Crockett, have I enjoyed a gardening series more than your Growing a Greener World. Gardening has been an important part of my life since I was a young boy. Since I retired from the Air Force many years ago, I have expanded my gardening to a point where I raise excess produce which I sell at our local farmers market. I make a little money doing that, however most of my profit is spent buying seeds, plants, gardening supplies, compost, etc, etc. So, many people benefit from my gardening: I benefit from the exercise, the satisfaction (as well as frustration – hahaha) of spending much of the day outside doing something I enjoy, and the satisfaction of being able to produce high quality fruits and veggies for us to eat. My customers at the farmer’s market benefit from quality produce (much of it is organically produced) which I sell at prices lower than the local supermarkets. And the companies where I buy my seeds, plants, mulch, etc all benefit from the products I buy from them – thereby creating jobs for many people who create and supply their products. I am seventy years old now and I am still learning about better ways to garden, so maybe you can teach an old dog “new tricks” haha. I grow a wide variety of fruits, including trees like persimmon, pawpaw, and asian pear, as well as blackberries and many vegetables which contribute to a variety of healthful antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals in my diet. Please keep up the excellent work you are doing there, and thank you again for the excellent series.
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Lee and thank you very much for the kind words. This is a lofty complement as Jim Crockett’s Victory Garden series is still considered to be the Gold Standard my serious gardening show watchers. I admire your drive and attitude and love that you continue to learn new things. I hope that we can continue to bring you interesting and informative content at a level that continues to keep us in your high esteem! All the best and thanks again for taking the time to write this very kind note.
Harlan Williams says
This was one of your best put together and most informative shows. From beginning to end, it followed a well thought out,logical, planned direction. We plan to use this program (your DVD), to introduce and educate beekeepers in our beginning beekeeper classes. Dave Hunters participation was golden also.
Our Saturday mornings begin with breakfast watching Greener World. You and your staff are putting out a high quality show that educates about topics for those of us wanting more green in our lives. Thank you for your hard working staff and all the great ideas your show introduces.
Harlan & Kristi
Joe Lamp'l says
Thank you Harlan and Kristi for your kind and thoughtful comments! We love that we are part of your Saturday morning routine as well.
Although often challenging, we always try to create content that is relevant, logical and educational, all delivered in an entertaining way. I think part of what allows us to do that more often than not, is that our entire crew is passionate about the subjects we cover. Thanks again for taking the time to share your thoughts here. We certainly love hearing them! Thanks for taking the time to write.
Del Blanchard says
JUST READ YOUR Q&A ABOUT MASON BEES. WE HAVE 5 ACRES OF BLUE BERRIES READY TO GO INTO THEIR FIRST YEAR OF OF PRODUCTION. PLEASE (WE DU-BUDDED THEM FOR THE LAST TWO YEARS.) HOW MANY MASON BEES SHOULD WE PROVIDE FOR PROPER FERTILIZATION? PLEASE SIGN ME UP FOR YOUR NEWS LETTER.
Joe Lamp'l says
Del, according to Dave Hunter, our Mason Bee expert over at Crown Bees, he says this: It’s a bit tricky of an answer as it depends upon the spacing of their plants, but a good rule of thumb in an orchard would be about 1000 cocoons, or 400 females. For blueberries, I’d start small, potentially about 500 cocoons/acre and see how they perform. I believe bumbles are potentially better than mason bees, but are very hard to bring in and control. Mason bees are replenished each year, so initial costs will drop.
Please help your person know that they can reach out to Crown Bees for orchard pricing, which is substantially cheaper. Call us and we’ll give her the password to that section of our website.”
Hope that helps.
Deborah Fredericks says
I recommend you find your closest Agricultural Extension, which may be a function of your county government or in partnership with a state university. They should have specific information about pollinators in your area.
You can also try the Xerxes Society, a non-profit dedicated to pollinator conservation. Some of their publications may be helpful. I recently read their book, “Attracting Native Pollinators,” and I’m sure they mentioned a specific Blueberry Bee. If you can find out what kinds of nesting requirements Blueberry Bees have, you might be able to recruit that species for your crop.
My husband and I would like to buy some cocoons for the mason bees…how can we do this and also will they do okay in north central florida?
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Sherry. Contact Crown Bees at http://www.crownbees.com They sell the cocoons and will be able to advise you.
Diana Hamill says
I am glad I saw your show on Mason bees. But we have a problem. We have Mason bees that have bored holes into the walls of our house and laid their eggs. Then to make the problem worse, woodpeckers come and try to peck into the holes to get at the eggs or larvae. We don’t want to kill the bees and their eggs, especially now that I see what great pollinators they are. But they are ruining our walls! I hope you can give me some solution to this problem, to get them out without killing them and to prevent them from boring back in next Spring. Thank you so much for your wonderful TV show and Website.
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Diana. It sounds like you have carpenter bees. They are also a solitary bee but they are not masaon bees. That said, I understand that you may not want to kill them or their larvae. I suggest you might want to direct this question to the folks at Crown Bees (www.crownbees.com) and/ or search online with the topic “control carpenter bees” or something like that. Thanks for your kind words Diana and good luck.
Dave Kass says
What a great show about mason bees, I new nothing about them.
I’m a woodworker and gardener and will be making many mason bee houses
DNR built a 400 acre fishing lake and 5000 total acres of natural habitat near us.
It would be great if the DNR would allow these mason bee houses on there land (and also bat houses). Someone like me would donate the houses and the time to harvest the mason bees.
How can I receive a copy of this episode? My father would love to watch it. Unfortunately he has no computer and only has a dvd player.
Joe Lamp'l says
We sell DVD copies of all episodes Lori. Individual shows are $12.50 which includes S&H. email Sarah@joegardener.com if you want to order. Thanks
While I enjoyed the content, I was a little confused by the comment in the opening proposing that it’s a mystery why so many bees are dying.
I was under the impression that several reputable international studies have linked bee and monarch butterfly decline to pesticides and even further to a couple of specific pesticides.
Could you comment?
Joe Lamp'l says
Pesticides are only a part of the problem Deb.
Along with that, it is believed that stress from commercial transportation, pests (varroa mite) and viruses also contribute. But scientists are unable to conclude that it is only pesticides, although I’m with you that this is a big part of the problem. The pesticide in concern is systemic, meaning it is transported from the roots into the plants. When bees land on said plants and retrieve pollen, they are taking back some of the pesticide as well. These pesticides are known as neonicotinoids, or neonics for short. They are in fact not only responsible for contributing to colony collapse disorder (CCD), but a reduction in the bird population due to a drastic decline in insects as a food source.
By the way, the issue with the monarch butterfly that you reference is due more in part to the steep reduction of milkweed, the monarchs primary plant to support its lifecycle. We have Monsanto to thank for that. With the introduction of Roundup ready plants, fields are being sprayed with more glyphosate than ever. Although the crops survive the herbicide, important habitat and food source plants, such as milkweed are disappearing at alarming rates. Without food and nesting sites for beneficial insects and pollinators, we are seeing the negative effects in many ways.
Hope this helps clear up the confusion.
Susan Smith says
Where do I find a copy of the plan/ instructions to make a mason bee house as seen on your show, episode 503?
Joe Lamp'l says
Susan, the instructions for making the bee house are in the show notes for this episode. Here’s the link: https://www.growingagreenerworld.com/solitary-bees-pollinators/
Scroll down and it will be the first link in the notes.
Thanks for this wonderful information about how each of us can do something to improve the state of our world. My hat is off to Mr Hunter,well done!
This morning was the first time I had watched your show and really enjoyed the program on the solitary mason bees. Many times I have wondered about this or that bee I see collecting pollen but have never done any research. Now I know. I look forward to making some of the houses and rolls for their nests. Thanks for a great program and I plan to watch next time as well.
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Jim. Thank you for your comment. Glad you found us and hope you enjoy the many past and future episodes.
Loved the show on bees however you suggested using cedar and I just clipped this from a bee web site: ‘avoid cedar, which is toxic to insects.’
Any how I’ll try a nesting box but would like to also promote honey bees but want to know if I have to harvest the honey. May get the nerve in the future but for now I just want the bees back in abundance.
Joe Lamp'l says
Hi Cindy. I checked with Dave Hunter at Crown Bees about this. Here’s his reply: “The house is fine. It can be cedar to plastic and anything in between. The wood trays, however, should not be cedar. I have been told that cedar has a natural insecticide that would harm the developing bees. Thus, no cedar there. I have not tested this out as it seems “true” to me”.
Personally, the house I made is cedar, but the inserts or tubes where they live are not. Thanks for your comment.
Anne Regans says
Great show….I’ve been wanting to raise bees but didn’t want to have honey bees….hope to get started with the Mason bees soon.
I just watched this show and I am so excited to make a Mason Bee habitat.Thank you for sharing this valuable information.Great show.
David Keen says
Are Mason bees usual in southern Ontario. Can you give me information regarding purchasing and rearing mason Bees?
Joe Lamp'l says
David, check the link on the post for this episode to Crown Bees. It’s included in the show notes. They have the equipment and information you need to get started. Good luck.
Louise Dawson says
Great program. I shared it with our Facebook friends. What I enjoyed was hearing the message about how easy mason bees are to care for. I first met them on a golf course in 1981 when they were nectaring on a flowering shrub of some kind. There was not much info about them back then and my search was at the library, not internet. Thank you for dedicating a program to my gentle garden buddies.
What a WONDERFUL show and so educational. I’m excited to try this next spring. You picked a gem when you interviewed Dave Hunter. His gentleness and passion for the mason bee was endearing. Thank you all again for the terrific shows you produce.