Types of Mason Bee Housing
Mason Bees in the wild lay their broods in holes in the ground and small holes in trees, reeds and in house sidings, where the hole needs to be of very exact dimensions. The bee looks for a hole that is exactly 5/16th inch (8mm) in diameter and between 6-8 inches (15-20cm) in length and sealed at one end. These dimensions are precise and the bee will search widely for exactly these measurements for a location to lay its precious eggs. The advantage of having a ready made house on your property is that you can actively take part in raising these bees and see the life cycle in one convenient place.
Recently there has been an increasing awareness of the fragility of the environment and how we can help maintain it and even improve it by keeping mason bees. As you wander around the local superstore or garden centre you may see many different and bewildering types of mason bee housing for sale, these houses are widely available and come in many different shapes and sizes. We will look at some of these before we talk about in our opinion the best model of mason bee house to own.
Whichever type of housing you choose, the most important thing to consider is the bee.
Many commercially mass produced houses, whilst being attractive and cheap to buy, will not benefit the bee population or ensure their long term sustainability. Bees will use these houses for one year but in subsequent years, the build up in the holes of old discarded cocoons, mites and general detritus will prevent the bee from using it again. Each year the number of viable cocoons will decrease and those that do survive will be mite infested.
On this page, we will explain the differences between the four versions of the houses that are available along with recommendations and warnings of each model. The four models available are:-
3. Drilled housing boxes
4. Housing with separable trays.
Each of these houses has benefits enabling the mason bee to lay their eggs. However, some have more issues than others and to maximize the possibility of survival of the bees we should look to the models that best ensure the success of the bee.
1. Reed House
Available online and in most superstores such as Canadian Tire, Costco or Walmart these houses are extremely simple and easy to make yourself or to buy.
To make a Reed Mason bee house you will need some length of reed, usually bamboo (for its strength), and a backboard or box to place them in, the box should be wood, preferably a hardwood to prevent moisture affecting the shape.
The reeds should be of a size that the bees enjoy, 5/16th inch (8mm) or slightly smaller and between 6-8 inch (8-10cm ) long, preferably sealed at one end to prevent light entering. If the reed is not sealed at the end of the tube then the bees will not be interested. The most common unit is a Bamboo reed.
Economical to buy
These houses are useful for one year only
Concerns with the Reed House
The reed house is not recommended, the reeds cannot be cleaned and have a limited life. Typically the bees will not revisit a hole that has been compromised by pests and pesticides. The reed houses cannot be cleaned and the build-up of these pests over the first two years prevents the bees from returning for the third year.
3. Drilled Holes
Drilled holes are the closest to the natural hole that a mason bee will use. They are simply holes of a given length and size drilled into a post or tree.
Advantages of the Drilled Holes
The simplicity of drilling a hole and watching for bees cannot be understated. Find a fence post or large tree and rill a few holes, it is that simple.
Concerns with Drilled Hole Houses
The drilled hole simplicity is offset by how bad these are for the mason bee. In their natural environment as few as 10% of the bees may survive in the holes due to pests or water entering, the same is true for drilled holes, they offer no advantages over natural holes that the bees can locate for themselves.
Mason bee houses using straws are normally to be found at garden fairs or events and online at major retailers. The straw style of house looks similar to the Reed style but the holes are slightly larger. They differ by having tubes, or sleeves inserted into the holes to allow easy access and removal thus not requiring the holes to get dirty. The straws are the correct size for the mason bee to use.
Advantages of Straw House
The Straw type of house is easy to make, you will need a number of STRONG paper straws specifically intended for mason bee use and a set of tubes that are slightly wider than the straw. Place each straw into the tube and ensure a tiny piece remains outside so that it can be removed in the winter. Encase the straw-filled tubes in a box that blocks one end of the tube blocked. Ensure that the tubes and straws can be removed.
Concerns with Straw House
The primary concerns of this model of mason bee house are the cost and the threat of pests. The cost of maintenance increases due to the need to purchase new straws each year, these can be as high as $1 each. Normal drinking straws will not work successfully neither will plastic straws. Pests can also tend to invade and cannot be cleaned out, they tend to be less than in Reed houses but build up over 2-3 years results in challenges for the bees laying in their holes.
Straw houses can also be used combined with separable tray houses.
4. Separable Tray House
The separable tray house is sold under many names but is usually referred to as the Professional or Semi-professional Mason Bee house or condo. This house can be cleaned of pests and stored safely for many years of active use. The key factor is that the trays can be separated to enable cleaning and removal of the cocoons at the appropriate time. This means that the maximum number of mason bees will survive into the next year. It is more successful than any of the other house types in maintaining a healthy population of mason bees.
Advantages of Tray Houses
Long Live Bees will only sell this variety of mason bee housing, which we call our Mason Bee Condo. The Condo has a series of trays that have precisely the correct size holes and a mechanism to quickly and easily take apart the trays for cleaning. They are robust and made from quality cedar and pine.
Concerns With Tray Houses
The challenge of making these houses means that making them for yourself is difficult as it requires some know how and the correct tools. They are not mass produced as the cost to manufacture is high with comparatively low profit. Due to better design and craftsmanship they are more expensive to buy and you will only find them at specific stores, such as Long live Bees or other reputable companies who place the bee at the centre of the business to ensure a successful increase in mason bee populations
There is also a little more upkeep with this type of house, 2-3 hours per year, yes, per year. The majority of this time is in cleaning the house at the end of the year and storing the bees for the next generation the following spring.