Sometimes I wonder how it is that every Spring seems the most beautiful one of all? Some memories don’t last, and it’s hard to exactly remember the year before, unless some truly memorable event happened at the same time. But you seem to depend on things like the seasons to just come quietly along each year.
And let's not forget the spring noises too! Birds chirping, the mason bees emerging after a long winter.
There’s usually no defining boundary of when these signs of new life start or end. It happens when you take a walk and see spring bulbs peeking through from their winter rest. From then on every day is a miracle of growth and discovery.
Calendars that stubbornly inform of beginning and end dates for seasons are man made, and only manage to decide on paper when holidays and vacations should happen. But Nature advertises spring all around us and gardeners note every tiny new sign of it with heart- pounding appreciation.
Flowers and bees ~ just made for each other
This is the time too when I become even more acutely aware of the humming birds and all the insects in the garden, as they become frantic with the urges of spring fever! It’s time for them to focus on multiplying their numbers, and to food forage everywhere for offspring and the following year.
Keeping a careful eye on the masons
It was a heartbreak, because it meant I’d have to start all over again in the Spring. You can bet I’ll be keeping a much more careful eye on them this year.
Their homes were still in good shape though, and I cleaned them and the nesting tubes out with soap and warm water until they were squeaky clean, before returning them to the houses.
When you go to situate your little mason houses it’s nice if you can arrange for them to be at about eye level, with the openings facing east. That way they are protected from extreme weather, but still have the warmth they need at hatching time. Mine are on a sturdy pole that holds the wires used for my espalier apple training.
I did buy a small contingent of them, and they’re now safely in their little houses and beginning to hatch out of their cocoons. They are such sweet gentle little bees.
All bees are not the same
- Honey bees are very distinctive when you get to know your bees. They’re shiny and neat. They buzz cheerfully as they go about their nectar foraging and gather pollen into their baskets on their legs. Honey bees have one objective in mind - everything is for the good of their hive and their queen.
- Bumble bees can easily be distinguished by their hairy bodies. Some are big, some small. They all have a very busy buzz! They are solitary bees, and not too much is known about their nests, as they tend to make them in very unexpected places, like piles of brush or in grassy land.
- Mason bees are the ones I host in my yard. They’re such amazing little insects, and do so much work in your garden. Unlike the honey bees they are solitary bees. They like to find small holes and set about collecting pollen almost as soon as they hatch from the cocoons of last year.
The little female Mason bees are wonderful pollinating machines, in fact they’re very superior to the honey bees in this regard. They don't make honey, but they collect a lot of nectar and pollen, roll it into a ball, and deposit it in a specific order in little tubes. You gotta love those little Mason ladies - they're incredibly organized. They don't make honey - their whole short lives are devoted to making more Masons.
Mason guys are different. You don't often see them, but when you do, you'll know them right away, ‘cause they have cute fluffy little white topknots on their heads. The ladies are plain - actually at a glance they look more like flies, but they're not. The boys always leave the home first, and lurk around, waiting for the girls to come out on a nice spring day. Then they do what boys do. After that the girls are primed to start collecting pollen and laying eggs.
I went into my local garden centre for my new batch of masons.They produced the little boxes of ready-to-go cocoons from the fridge they’re kept in for the winter. Yes, they’re boxed in 10 cocoons and quite unremarkable to look at!
Help the masons, and they'll help you
- They carefully organise their little apartment homes. Working from the back of each tube, they lay an egg, ensure there's a good supply of pollen for the future larva, then plug it snugly using clay, and begin the next one.
- The fertilized eggs go towards the back of the tubes. Unfertilised ones are situated in front. They become the males of next year, and are first out of the hive.
- They finally seal up the tube entrance, after about six little spaces have been created for the next generation. There are a good number of tubes to fill.Then, when this wonderful effort is completed, the females die. By July nothing more will happen until the following Spring.
- Well, not nothing! As a caring neighbor of course I will take the tube orphans in about July, let the pupae develop, and turn into cocoons. After cleaning They'll stay safely in a little box in my fridge until next year this time.
- My masons are already hard at work, with the warmth and fabulous weather we have here on the Coast this year. Unlike honey bees though, they don’t fly far in search of pollen. This is why it’s very important to grow flowers, bushes and trees in your garden.
- They’re highly efficient fruit blossom pollinators too, and it’s incredibly important to encourage their efforts, as there is a global crisis with die-off of bees. Although scientists and beekeepers have worked on this problem for many years the situation continues.
- If we lose our pollinators, fruits and vegetables, plus grasses and everything else we depend on for food will no longer be available. We will starve to death. Bees are that important to our survival.
- It doesn’t mean you can’t help the mason bees and the world just because you don’t have a garden. Pots of flowering herbs and flowers are wonderful places for pollen food. And the big bonus for you is the fascination and enjoyment of seeing how they work in the environment you’ve created for them.
- Even apartment and condo dwellers can help mason bees to thrive, provided you’re not more than three stories up in the world. That’s because those little miracle insects don’t fly a long way in search of pollen and nectar. So you need to be sure you have flowering bushes that attract them close by before you start on this adventure.
- In many cases people report how watching the mason bees gives them a sense of accomplishment and peace they’ve not known for many years. These are the ultimate pets for you, self feeding, non-messy, never bored, quiet and friendly. They multiply efficiently, so usually, after your initial purchase, you have ne knowledge and excitement every year as you continue to enjoy their activity.
- Oh yes, and at Christmas time those little cocoons they’ve produced make excellent, unique, valuable presents. You put them in your fridge in a little box ( you can buy these special storage boxes too, that keep them at just the right humidity) and you have suddenly given a new and satisfying experience to anyone you care about.
Where do mason bees live?
If you think adopting some very independent, very necessary mason bees might work for your home and family, please go ahead. They're very cute.
And if you know someone who might be interested in this little article, please share it with them. That's another way of helping the bees!