The Struggle To Keep Our Bees. What Is Really Happening To Honeybee Hives?

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Our two honeybee hives at the farm provide us with so much more than just incredible honey. They also help to pollinate many of the fruit trees, vegetable crops and flowers in our garden and landscape. In addition, they are simply

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The Insect That Pollinates 200 Times BETTER Than Honeybees

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The Homestead Insect That Pollinates 200 Times BETTER Than Honeybees

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When you think of attracting a super-pollinating machine to your backyard garden, you probably don’t instantly think of the mason bee. Most people think of the honeybee instead. But there is good reason for making your property attractive to the mason bee.

For starters, they are much better pollinators than the honeybee. For example, an orchard can be pollinated by only 250 mason bees – compared to needing 50,000 honeybees. And, because mason bees have a limited range of only about 300 feet, they are ideal for backyard gardens.

Mason bees, in fact, are about 200 times more efficient in pollinating than honeybees.

So, What Is a Mason Bee?

The mason bee is a solitary bee that is slightly smaller than the honeybee, and it commonly has a blue-black sheen that can make it mistakable for a housefly. There are 140 species of this insect which are native to North America, as well as about 70 species native to Europe and Asia.

The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Stronger Colonies and Healthier, More Productive Bees

Also called orchard bees, mud bees or twig bees, these insects do not build their own nests but rather search out narrow tunnels left behind by wood boring insects in the bark of trees or hollow stems in which they can lay their eggs. They then seal the eggs inside the hole with mud. They also can live in homemade mason bee houses (which will be discussed in a moment).

Although they do not live in colonies like honeybees do, mason bees do like to make their nests in clusters. And while they do have the ability to sting like any other bee, the absence of a queen to protect makes them a gentle and non-aggressive insect.

The Secret of Their (Pollinating) Success

So perhaps you are wondering what makes the humble mason bee such a powerhouse when it comes to pollinating. The answer lies in its lack of precision.

When a honeybee visits blossoms, it does so in a very methodical way, going from one flower to the next. It is so precise in filling up its pollen sacks that very little if any pollen comes into contact with the sides of the flower. By some estimates, a single honeybee will only pollinate about 5 percent of the blooms it comes in contact with.

The Homestead Insect That Pollinates 200 Times BETTER Than Honeybees

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By contrast, mason bees tend to be much messier in collecting their pollen. They do not have pollen sacks but rather, they make use of special hairs on their abdomen called scopa. These insects crawl over ever part of the flower, dropping quite a bit of pollen in the process. Their flight patterns are also more erratic. Instead of moving from one blossom to the next in an organized fashion, they will zigzag back and forth from tree to tree, meaning a much better chance for cross pollination. An individual mason bee can visit as many as 2,400 blossoms in a single day and pollinate 90 percent of them!

How to Attract Mason Bees

Although there are companies that sell mason bee cocoons, attracting these insects to your property is fairly simple.

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Check out the tips below to get started:

  • Have a place for them to nest. Since mason bees do not build their own nests, they need to be provided with tunnels. This can be done by leaving dead trees standing or by creating your own mason bee house. The simplest way to make your bee house is to take a block of untreated wood and drill a series of one-fourth-inch holes, but you can also use several small rolls of cardboard or paper as well, which will allow you to harvest the cocoons at the end of the season. Place the house in an area that gets morning sun.
  • Provide them with clay. Mason bees make mud walls in their nests, but typical garden soil has very little clay and too much organic matter for them to use. If you don’t have an area on your property with access to moist clay soil, you can provide “mud pies” for mason bees looking to move in. In fact, making mud pies with your children is a great lead-in to teach them about these gentle bees.
  • Give them water. Having easily accessible water helps mason bees to lay more eggs. A shallow dish of water filled with a few rocks (for the bees to land) placed outside is all that that is needed. Eggs are laid in early spring, so if you do it then you won’t have to be concerned about mosquitoes.
  • Give them food. Mason bees require pollen, so it’s important to make sure that you have enough pollen-producing plants on your property — plenty of flowers, blossoming fruits and vegetable plants.
  • Give them protection. If you have decided to build a bee house and are successful in attracting mason bees, the holes in your bee house will become plugged up by mud. Young bees will hibernate through the winter but will be very vulnerable to predators such as woodpeckers, squirrels and ants. By late fall, you should gently move the bee house into an unheated garage or shed. If you have a style of house that can be cleaned, then gently harvest the cocoons and get rid of any mites. Harvested bees can be kept in a Ziploc bag in an unheated area until it is time for them to be released (in early spring when blossoms are about 25 percent out).
  • Don’t poison them! If you are trying to attract mason bees, don’t use pesticides!

Keeping mason bees can provide incredible benefits for your yard and garden. Why not give it a try this season?

Do you have experience with mason bees? Share your advice in the section below:

Every Year Gardeners Make This Avoidable Mistake — But You Don’t Have To. Read More Here.

How to Rescue a Honeybee

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All Alone, Far From Home

A single honeybee alone cannot survive without its hive. If a foraging bee gets lost or trapped during its travel and is stuck somewhere overnight, most likely she will be dead by morning. I believe they die of loneliness. Here’s a simple method I found to rescue a honeybee.

Sometimes after dark I’ll find a bee in the house but since she can’t fly at night without the sun to help her navigate home, I can’t release her outside or she’ll simply be lost. Also we have multiple hives here so I can’t even deliver her to the correct hive to mingle back in because I don’t know which is her home. Alas, what to do?

Attempting to Rescue a Honeybee

I tried putting out a dish with a dab of honey on it then putting a jar upside down over the dish. That kept her confined so I could find her in the morning but I noticed she often spent her time buzzing against the glass trying to get out. When I thought of what her natural environment normally is at night, I came up with something different.

I put a few long chunks of empty comb and a smidge of propolis inside a pint glass canning jar. I pressed the edges of the wax so it adhered to the sides, leaving room between the combs so it appeared similar to the inside of a hive. Using a toothpick, I filled just one cell with honey near the top and put a single tiny drop of water in another cell. Really only a pinhead sized drop, enough for one bee. Using my finger I placed the bee inside the jar and let her walk onto the comb, then I screwed the top on (air-holes poked in it) and put her in a darkened room. Even better if I find two or three bees – they all have a friendly sleepover in the comb jar.

Bee and comb in jar

Read more: Attracting Pollinators to the Garden Year After Year

Don’t Forget to Free the Bee

This is a key point! I write myself a note, reminding me in the morning that my little lost bees are in the parlor. I write the note because I have twice woken up and gone about my day, not remembering the bee jar until later. By then their time apart from the colony was too long and the bees had died. Now I tape the note on the bathroom mirror or the kitchen table.

After the sun’s up I peek at the sleepover bees in the jar and nearly always they are just fine. Once they start moving around, I walk up the path to the hives and open the jar. They head immediately home.

Forager bees are used to being on comb for the evening. Knowing they were stressed about not making it home before dark, I wanted to recreate as much as possible a hive-ish place to give them a sense of familiarity about where they are, with known scents of wax comb, fragrant propolis, sweet honey and water.

Why Rescue a Honeybee?

Does it matter that one little bee makes it through the night?

I believe it does. Being kind to one bee, when it likely won’t make much difference to the hive or even the bee community, is a good thing for us humans to do. Maybe the world won’t change because I saved a bee. But too often the callousness of my inattention denies me the opportunity to develop benevolence. No being is inconsequential; every life matters.

When we treat all beings as deserving of our consideration, even a little bee can assist us in our task of becoming more gentle, more thoughtful, more human.


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