garden bee house

After purchasing my "bee hotel," Mason bees began filling the sections in less than a week.

The well-deserved attention pollinators are getting has fostered garden items for sale that include “insect hotels” which are houses made for solitary tunnel nesting insects. I was a skeptic when I first saw these little houses, but now appreciate their role in helping preserve our pollinators.

I became interested in these special houses when our county Master Gardeners offered a children’s program at the county fair which focused on pollinator awareness. We provided an array of materials for kids to assemble their own “Bug Hotels.”  The materials included rolled paper tubes, blocks with drilled holes and assorted other items for fillers. The kids assembled their bug houses inside gallon juice bottles cut in half and bound together with duct tape. It was a hit with the kids and also with their parents.

In keeping with the pollinator theme, we had a speaker telling us all about Mason bees. After hearing the fascinating Mason bee information, I purchased a house and the adventure began! My bee hotel had its first occupants in less than a week. It was interesting to see how many “suites” were filled each day. There is some maintenance and the house needs to be cleaned in the spring or new tubes put in to discourage disease. Houses should be mounted facing south about six feet off the ground.

Mason bees are solitary tunnel nesters in contrast with honey bees who have communal hives. Mason bees do not have drilling mouth parts so they can’t make their own nesting holes and use holes previously made by woodpeckers or carpenter bees. Like honey bees, the female Mason bees do all of the nesting and foraging to care for the young. After mating, the females search for nectar and pollen and bring it to the tube home they have selected and form it into a sticky nectar ball. Then she lays an egg on the food ball and seals it in the tube with mud.  She does this repeatedly and caps the end of the tube with mud. The eggs hatch and the larvae eat the food left by mom and pupate (form cocoons) inside the tube. They stay there until spring when they emerge from the cocoon and the cycle repeats itself.

Most solitary bees have a short life span and once they select their nesting hole will only fly a few hundred feet in search of nectar. The world is home to over 21,000 species of bees and 90 percent of them are solitary. Mason bees don’t sting and they are cute little creatures.

Providing housing for bees is a low-maintenance hobby and the pollination payoff is huge. Since their range is close to their nesting site, they make perfect pollinators for home gardens and fruit trees.  

Sharon Quale is a master gardener from central Minnesota. She may be reached at (218) 738-6060 or squale101@yahoo.com.