Solitary bees are less familiar than their cousins the honey bee and bumble bee. These solitary bee ABC’s are full of interesting facts to help you get to know these awesome pollinators. By the time you’re reading Z you just may be wondering why solitary bees haven’t been crowned most popular in the bee kingdom.
Did you know it doesn’t take much to have a bee yard? First, you need plants that will blossom throughout spring and summer months. (See our solitary bee paradise post here).Second, you need to make sure you change the way you spray. (Spray after the sun goes down and away from the bee house or not at all). Third, You need bees and a place they can nest (bee house). Native solitary bees are a great fit for people who don’t want to get stung or deal with honey bee hives that require year round maintenance. Provide a bee house and get some native bees and you are set. These bees will grow in numbers year after year and hep you have a more healthy garden/yard.
There are 25,000 species of bees in the world. Of those there are over 4,000 solitary bees in the United Sates alone. They are called solitary bees because unlike honey bees and bumblebees they do not live in colonies. Rather, the females build their own nest and collect pollen for their offspring and then die. 70% of solitary bees build their nest underground. Of the 4,000 solitary bees, 1,200 build their nests above ground, most of which are found in dead trees. Are at Masonbeesforsale.com we currently work with five of these 1,200 bees. To learn more about the differences between the 5 types of bees we work with check out the links below:
Cross-Pollination: the transfer of pollen from one flower to another flower. In crops like cherries you have to have cross-pollination from two different cherry trees to produce any kind of fruit. Solitary bees are great pollinators because of the way they carry pollen on their bellies. The pollen is collected on their bellies and held into place by their fine hair (which covers most of their body’s not just their abdomen). When they visit different flowers the pollen from their bellies fall off and pollinates the newly visited flower. This is why mason bees pollinate 99.8% of the blossoms they visit. The mason bee then picks up some of the pollen that falls off along with the new pollen. Solitary mason bees do this process about 4,000 times per day. Mason bees are very sporadic when collecting their pollen. Honeybees start on one tree and work the whole tree before they go onto the next. Mason bees will visit a few flowers from a tree then jump to the next. They will then deposit the pollen from their bellies into its nest, emerge, and repeat this process. This helps with the crossing of the pollen to help build a better crop. Learn more about your pollinations options here.
Female solitary bees emerge in spring or summer (depending on variety) and begin collecting pollen to put inside her nest. Once the female solitary bee collects enough pollen she lays her egg and seals off the egg and pollen in a cell (cell wall material varies depending on type of bee). The egg becomes a larva, consumes the pollen it was placed on, spins a cocoon, and turns into a bee. This process is much like a butterfly, but it all happens within the tubes the bee’s eggs are laid in. This process happens between June and September for spring time bees. Once fully developed within the cocoon, the mason bees, and other osmia species, have to sit over the winter months in dormancy waiting for the outside temperature to reach 55*F or warmer. Mason bees have to be in a state of dormancy for a minimum of 150 days before they can safely emerge. This stage of dormancy is between the months of October and April. The safest time to ship is during the winter months in order to prevent the bees from emerging in transit to your location. Once received, it is important to place the bees in a cold place below 40*F until spring. Most people store their bees inside their fridge. You can safely store your mason bees inside a fridge until May. If held on longer the bees will die inside the cocoons or come out in the fridge
When spring-time comes, and temperatures reach 55* F or warmer, the solitary bees will emerge from their nesting tubes and start finding pollen for their offspring. In one reed of mason bees there are usually 5-8 bees. The front 2/3 is normally males, and the back 1/3 is females. Once the temperature warms up to 55* F the males will begin to emerge from their cocoons first. The bees must chew their way through the clay that was placed inside the tube by their mother until they reach the opening of the tube. A few days later the female bees follow by emerging from their cocoons and chew their way out. For our summer-time bees they will emerge later in the season when day time temperatures reach a consistent 70*F. Leafcutter bees will usually emerge in mid June-July.
Solitary bee females will forage for pollen for their offspring. The female mason bee visits about 80 flowers before she has to drop the pollen off her belly into her nesting tube. It takes her about 25 full loads to make up a pollen wad to lay her egg in. Once nested, the females will usually only travel 100 yards from her nest site. Mason bees like to visit early blossoming plants such as Almonds, Apricots, Cherries, Peaches, Apples, Raspberries, Blueberries, and more. Alfalfa leafcutter bees are our garden bee and pollinate a variety of summertime vegetables and flowers.
Although greenhouses provide a controlled and protected environment for plants they lead to a few pollination challenges. Namely, they are “protected” from natural pollination. Honey bees and most other bees don’t pollinate well in a confined area but there is one solitary bee that works well inside a green house. Do you know which one it is? The alfalfa leafcutter bee!
Leafcutters thrive in the heat and have fewer problems flying through humidity than other bees. They work best in a warm environment with temperatures from 80*F to 110*F. (It is best not to let your greenhouse get above 120*F.) They are non-aggressive bees and do not colonize, therefore, they are gentle and there is almost no risk of being stung. If they happen to sting it is a much milder sting than other bees. (we’ve been working with them for over 8 years and have yet to be stung).
To read more about greenhouse pollination options click here.
To find out how to set up leafcutter bees in your greenhouse click here.
Solitary Bees do not produce honey. If you are looking for awesome pollination from a safe easy to maintain bee then solitary bees are your best bet. If however your primary purpose is to produce honey these bees are not for you.
Honey is a food source produced by honey bees that they use to feed their hive over the winter months when foraging is scarce to non existent. Solitary bees are maturing in cacoons during the winter and do not require the same calories that adult honey bees do. The pollen/nectar collected by the female solitary bee before laying her egg is usually much more than required to feed the growing bees. There is no need to feed or maintain solitary bees during the winter. Less work is also nice and there are a lot less supplies required to raise solitary bees as well.
To see a head to head comparison between honey bees and solitary bees click here.
Solitary bees have many species. There are native solitary bee species to almost every continent. Blue orchard mason bees, alfalfa leafcutter bees, osmia californica bees, texana bees and sunflower bees are indigenous to the United States. There numbers over the years have declined because of destruction of natural habitat. The best thing you can do is help provide a place these bees can call home.
Did you know solitary bees hibernate? The current years’ female solitary bees collect pollen and nectar and lay eggs next to the pollen. The egg then develops into a dormant adult bee.
Solitary bees require exposure to cold winter temperatures for successful emergence the following spring. They need to be dormant in this stage at or below 44˚F for a minimum of 120 days (usually it’s more like 150).
With the weather still cold outside, and with spring a few months away, the bees are coming to the end of their minimum amount of dormancy (hibernation) in January. Bees will remain cold in shipping without icepacks. With these two elements on our side NOW is the time to transfer bees from our fridge to your fridge.
When people hear the word bee they usually think of honey bees, special suits, bee stings, and honey. Well that’s just not the case with solitary bees. Solitary bees do not require any kind of special suit to handle them. From the time someone buys them, to the time the bees are released, you never handle a walking bee: only bees that are still lying in their cocoons waiting to start working in the spring. Also, if you have little ones or pets in your back yard there is no need to fence off the area the bees are at. These bees will not attack you. They are very kind. Males do not have a stinger. Females do have a stinger, but very rarely us it.
The picture is my one year old baby girl holding mason bees and honestly I was more worried about the bee’s safety than her getting stung. That is just how kind they are.
Once emerged from their cocoons, mason bees live 6-8 weeks. Because their lives are so short the females have to work extra hard to make sure they get enough pollen for their offspring.
Making sure there are plenty of blossoms available for their entire lifespan will increase bee reproduction. The different varieties of bees emerge from their cocoons at different times of the growing season. Having bee diversity in your yard is a good way to ensure constant pollination from early spring to late summer. If you want all the solitary bees in your yard check out this package of bees.
All tunnel nesting solitary bees use found materials to create dividers between egg cells and plug their tunnels. Mason bees got their name because they use clay-mud in building their nest. The female will crawl all the way to the back of a reed with mud and make a wall with it. After she makes the wall, she will then make a pollen ball, lay her egg in the pollen ball, and then seal the cell off with mud. She will repeat this multiple times until it’s time to seal off the tube with mud. If you don’t have clay for mason bees we have found that your mason bees will leave the area. Get the ideal mud for mason bees here.
Nesting materials for mason bees need to be around 6 inches long, with the inside hole size about 5/16 of an inch in diameter. The back needs to be covered as to not allow light to go through. We have found that natural reeds provide the best nesting material for mason bees. In the wild, mason bees live in holes that are found in dead trees. No two bees are the same size so it is best to have a variety of hole sizes when starting with mason bees.
Leafcutter bees are smaller and prefer smaller diameter tunnels. That is why we offer both small and large reed tubes/ laminate wood trays. Read more about pros and cons of different nesting materials here.
Get the best quality nesting materials here.
The ideal pollinator for orchards is the Osmia Lignaria (aka blue orchard bee). Many people refer to Mason Bees as Blue Orchard Bees. The reason why, is that Mason bees are used in orchards to pollinate fruit crops that blossom in the spring time, and Mason bees are dark blue thus the name blue orchard bee. It takes between 1-2 honey bee hives, which is about 20,000-80,000 honey bees, to pollinate one acre of fruit trees. Mason bees only require 1,000 bees (600 males and 400 females) to do the same job as honey bees. That’s huge! 80,000 vs. 1,000 to do the same pollination.
There are 4 P’s for the proper habitat for solitary bees:
2-Pesticide Restraint (Just don’t use them…but if you must be sure to click this link for tips to reduce bee deaths).
3- Protection from Predators
4-Place to Nest- (bee house and nesting materials)
When all four are in a central location there is higher retention and reproduction. For more details on each of these requirements click here.
At Masonbeesforsale.com, we put our loose cell mason bees through a triple screening process to make sure our clients get only the healthiest, parasite free, bees. The first screening comes when we open up the reeds and separate the bees by male and female. The second comes when we count the bees one at a time. The third screening is right before we ship them out: we give them that once over to make sure nothing was missed. This way you as the consumer get a high quality product. Expect only the best solitary bees and products coming to your door. Get the best bees here.
Did you know honeybees are often found pollinating 4-5 miles from their hive?
Mason bees, along with most solitary bees, will travel up to 300 yards from their nest to pollinate blossoms but usually stay within 100 feet. Along with the solitary bees nonaggressive behavior the range for these bees is perfect for backyard growers! This is why thousands of backyard growers choose solitary bees over honeybees; these bees will actually be pollinating the owners crops instead of the neighbors. The only yard you can control pesticide exposure in is your own. This makes solitary bees less likely to die from your neighbors pesticides. Added bonus: your neighbors won’t complain about gentle sting-free bees that stay in your yard.
Setting up your solitary bee house is super easy and only takes about 10 min.
After stocking your house with nesting materials. Face the bee house between south and east for optimal pollination. Bees are cold blooded and use the heat from the morning sun to get flying in the morning. Find a secure place like the side of shed, fence post, or tree. Make sure the bee house is at least three feet from the ground to deter ants. If you have squirrels in the area you may want to squirrel proof the house with chicken wire.
It is best to have the house angled slightly downward so that any water that may get in the house will run out (using a nail or screw with the provided bracket on the house is sufficient). For complete tutorial click here.
Approximately 1,200 species of solitary bees in North America are tunnel nesters. This means they find tunnels/tubes to nest in and lay their larva.
Below are pictures of the phragmites australis reeds we use to build our tubes, or tunnels, out of. We harvest the reeds one at a time to be sure we are getting the ideal nesting material for our bees. We figure its okay to spoil the bees with what they like best. Get some here.
Urban gardeners know the struggle of planting things on balconies, roof tops and patios only to get little to no fruits and flowers for their labors. Low pollination may be the culprit. Solitary bees are the perfect addition to the urban garden, they stay close to their nests, don’t sting (so close neighbors aren’t an issue) and they pollinate well. If you have a small garden area this is the perfect house for you. You can set it up on a post in a potted plant, making it perfect for renters.
Solitary bees have declined in urban areas because their nesting areas have been replaced with cities and highways. Now buildings dot the land instead of their nests; insecticides and pesticides also killed them or drove them away. We are striving to bring back these native bees so they can once again help sustain our environment. In our opinion, every home should have a nest in their yard to better help our plants, the air we breathe, and the food we eat.
Different species of solitary bee like different varieties of crops. These bees emerge and pollinate at different times of the year. Solitary bees are generalists and will pollinate what they find and like. So what crops do you need pollinated? Below are examples of what bee likes which crops.
Springtime crops; apricots, almonds, apples, blueberries, watermelon, fruit trees, other garden fruit, flowers in the rose family- Mason bee
Mid spring- early summer crops; balsamroot, broccoli, carrot, raspberry, various garden veggies, flowers- Californica bee
Mid spring- early summer crops; berries and various fruits/veggies- Texana bee
Summertime crops; alfalfa, borage, canola, vetch, mint, onion, peas, and various other garden vegetables and flowers- Alfalfa Leafcutter bee
Summertime flowers and various fruits and veggies- Sunflower bee.
Ever solitary bee is a worker bee and all female solitary bees are queen bees as well. They are solitary meaning they work alone to create their nests. This behavior is different from honey bees who have a social order and colonize.
As you can see from the picture both honey bees and solitary bees work side by side when pollinating and aren’t bothered by or competitive with one another.
Do you know how to tell which tubes are used? It’s important to remove and replace last year’s tubes that no longer have solitary bees in them. This picture show what the tubes should look like after the bees have come out for the season, and what the freshly made tubes look like. The best time to check your tubes and replace (if needed) is October-February. If you leave used tubes inside the bee house, then other unwanted insects will begin to take over the bee house, and in a short time they will kill off all your mason bees. This is why it is so important to remove and replace old used tubes.
For a tutorial for how to clean out your bee house click here.
Who wants more fruit at the end of the season? Did you know studies have shown that when you place mason bees on fruit trees you get a better fruit set and more yield? They have found in almonds, cherries, and other fruit crops, that mason bees do a great job pollinating . Summer time bees have also been show to increase yield of vegetables. The yield was shown to increase between 30-500% more fruit set and vegetables depending on crop selection and bee variety. This means that at the end of the season you should not only have more fruits and vegetables but better tasting as well.
“Bees buzz for two reasons. First, the rapid wingbeats of many species create wind vibrations that people hear as buzzes. The larger the bee, the slower the wingbeat and the lower the pitch of the resulting buzz. This is a phenomenon of the wingbeats and not specifically of bees–some flies, beetles, and wasps also have buzzy flight caused by their wingbeats”…. Read more here.
We hope you enjoyed learning about solitary bees and that you will host a solitary bee nest in your garden, orchard, or patio. If you have any questions please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our goal is to help you thrive with solitary bees and we are happy to help in any way we can.
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