Making the right decision often precedes a cascade of positive results. Mason bees are one of those decisions in the garden.
You want better pollination of your fruit trees and berries, especially those that flower earlier in the year, so you decide to look in to mason bees. Quickly you find that mason bees not only help you get more fruit, but larger fruit.
Then you find out that to provide good foraging conditions for mason bees you need pollen, and therefore flowers, continuously.
You also find that supporting native bees, like masons, is a great way to help stave the scare of colony collapse disorder in honeybees you remember hearing about in the news.
And, when you research into the care of mason bees, you find that one of the concerns for maintaining a healthy mason bee population on your grounds is parasitic wasps. And you think, hey. Aren't parasitic wasps a great thing to have around for natural pest control? Mason bees, of course, aren't those pests. But...
Mason bees are solitary, non-aggressive bees that become active when temperatures break 60. Eggs are laid individually, walled off from one another with mud in blind-ended tunnels. Males, who emerge first, wait for the females, mate, and die. Females then set out to collect pollen, find an appropriate nest cavity, and start the cycle again.
So, to have mason bees you need: housing with long skinny tunnels, flowers for pollen, and mud.
Mason bee houses range from fancy wooden boxes to cylindrical containers. They should come with paper straws of appropriate diameter and length for nesting, about 5/16ths an inch and 5 to 6 inches, respectively. Nests holding more than 20 or 30 straws should have varying designs or colors along the front to help the ladies find their way.
Nest boxes should be located in a sunny spot that doesn't get too hot and is sheltered from rain and wind. The east side of the house is usually a good bet. It's also a good idea to have a hole nearby for mud collecting.
Then comes the fun part for the gardener: food. If your garden flowers year-round already, you're well on your way to welcoming mason bees. Otherwise, regular visits to your local garden center can help you find plants that are flowering when your yard isn't.
So. You've got food. You've got shelter. And, you have an alternative to sitting around waiting for the bees to maybe come. Garden centers often sell dormant mason bees literally by the straw-full this time of year. They'll also have further tips for success.
Once you get in to mason bees, you can decide how far you want to go with them. When you realize how much they can boost the number and size of your fruit, you may decide to curb population fluctuation by cleaning nests and such during the dormant season. But that comes later.
First, which should happen soon, comes making that good decision to encourage mason bees to live in your garden. 'Bee' friendly!
Melissa Volk is a writer and horticulture specialist with Sunnyside Nursery, a retail garden center celebrating its 61st anniversary. Visit www.sunnysidenursery.net.