With the warm weather we’ve been having, the mason and carpenter bees are coming out of their winter nests. Native bees, unlike honeybees, have been in the US for millions of years. Also, unlike honeybees, they have proven not to be susceptible to the parasitic mites and colony collapse disorder which is decimating the European honeybee population. However, native bees don’t make honey. Rather than collect nectar like honeybees, native bees are more interested in the pollen which is their food source. Native bees are more adapted to the colder climate, having hairy bodies which the pollen sticks to easier.
Mason bees build their nests in plants which have natural tubes like reeds or inside dead trees where they make nesting compartments out of mud. The female eggs are laid in the inner most compartments with the male eggs being laid in the exterior ones. A six inch nesting tube can contain up to 7 compartments. Although each female is in charge of her own nest, mason bees enjoy living in groups. These bees spend their summer months finding a place to nest, collecting pollen, finding mud to build their nests, and finally, laying an egg and sealing each compartment. Nesting kits for mason bees can be purchased so you can attract them to your garden. Basically, they are a plastic cup with 6″ cardboard tubes in them where the females can make their nests. They can be entertaining to watch. Best of all, mason bees won’t sting unless they are severely provoked.
Carpenter bees, although they are a good pollinator, are considered a pest by most. This bee makes their nests by tunneling in wood. The chewed wood is used to make partitions for their nests. Carpenter bees prefer to stay where they were hatched. They also collect pollen for their main food supply. A female carpenter bee will lay up to 20 eggs, again creating partitions between the eggs. These bees are more solitary than mason bees, although females will live next to each other. They will overwinter in their nests with the male awakening first. The male bee only visits flowers to feed. He spends the rest of his time guarding his territory. They are the ones who hover around the porch on a sunny spring day, just hanging out. Male bees are naturally curious and will approach you but the male doesn’t have a stinger.
These are just two examples of our native bees. Both are important to the pollination of our flowers, fruit trees and vegetables. We can help them with their task by growing more native plants in our gardens. Provide them with nesting materials. It doesn’t have to be a nesting kit. It can be plants which have a strawlike center, like raspberry bushes or dogwood. Don’t use pesticides near their nesting sites. Rather, offer carpenter bees an alternate nesting location by placing a piece of softwood in a more suitable location. Paint and sometimes stain helps to deter them. On the next sunny day, go out and listen for the buzz of these busy workers who help us make our flowers, fruits and vegetables bountiful.