Mason Bee Hatching

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So this post is a bit of a departure from our standard fare.  It’s not about food.  But yet it is.  Because of course, without bees, all those delicious fruits and vegetables we rely on would be a lot fewer and farther between.

Colony Collapse Disorder is not news at this point, but it’s still disturbing, especially its implications for the food supply.  Our Aunt Barbara’s response was to try to nurture back nature–so she was excited to invite us over the day after we arrived in Seattle to help “hatch” her newest project, a colony of mason bees.

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Mason bees don’t produce honey or beeswax–but it turns out there are a lot of upside to this.  Our aunt did her resarch and learned that they are  ”super-pollinators”–because every female lays eggs, there is no queen bee to collect honey for.  They do of course collect pollen, but since there’s not so much hoarding involved, much more of it gets distributed among plants to pollinate.   Which of course means fruits, vegetables, and generally helping nature do its thing.

And since they don’t have honey to make or a queen to protect, they don’t tend to attack like the typical honeybee.  They can sting, but it’s rare, and if it happens, it typically doesn’t hurt as much as other bee stings.

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Obviously (hopefully obviously at least) I wouldn’t be offering up my sons to a hive of potentially skittish, nervous, and therefore liable-to-attack-en-masse insects.  Meanwhile, what four year old boy wouldn’t jump at the chance to play with bugs?

So how do you hatch mason bees?  The kit came equipped with paper tubes, and our task was to insert one cocoon into each (though we discovered a few had already hatched when we opened the package!)  We then slid the tubes into the little wooden hutch (also supplied) that we then hung from our aunt’s porch.  Think of each little bee as getting a studio apartment to start its independent life, and the hutch as a sort of apartment complex.

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If they like their digs at my aunt and uncle’s in West Seattle, they’ll stay, but otherwise they’ll move on, finding their own new homes in hollow twigs or excavations left by other insects.  In fact, as a precondition to getting the bees from the Washington state extension service, our aunt had to research the food supply in her neighborhood and ensure it was adequate.

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They don’t just let anyone into the club, it seems.  But our aunt and uncle are pretty hospitable folks, so hopefully these new “neighbors” will stick around.

You can link to more information, provided by the extension service, here.

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22 thoughts on “Mason Bee Hatching

  1. This is great! I think these are what we call ‘maçon’ or ‘builder’ bees here in france, they build a tiny shell which looks like cement and are considered harmless. Respect to your Aunt Barbara!

  2. Fantastic! I love seeing the mason bee hives at the Arboretum but don’t think of them when I drool over starter beekeeping equipment– you opened up a new world. :)

  3. So neat!

    My cousin’s ex-husband and his father were for a time the state regulators for beekeeping. I think they dealt primarily with honey bees, and Chanukah gifts would include candles made of beeswax. I have no idea, but I wonder if wax is only made with honey bees. Something new to explore…

  4. How very interesting! Few years ago I read an aricle about population of killer bees expanding rapidly and destroying honey bees. Mason Bees will help keep the balance I hope! :) Oh and this would be something my kids and I could do!!!

  5. I am totally intrigued – I didn’t know anything about mason bees. I’ve wanted to keep bees, but didn’t want the stinging possibility in our yard (strongly supported by my family). But this sounds like a great way to get involved.

    • If you are interested my aunt would be happy to talk to you–she got hers through the state program so you of course could also take advantage. We know some folks putting out colonies in Lincoln Park too.

      • I looked into mason bees and it appears we’re too late for this season – the “clubs” I read about are closed and we can’t get the bees. I put it on my calendar for next spring, though – something fun to look forward to. Thanks for the inspiration and info!

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