We are seeing and hearing the signs of spring popping up all around us. Flowers are emerging. The grass is growing. Birds are singing. Soon we will also be seeing the Mason Bees emerging from their winter hibernation.

Mason Bees are hard workers in the world of pollinating our flowers and crops. They are just one of many pollinators University of Illinois Extension, Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit staff and volunteers work to support through their educational programs and projects.

Nicole Flowers-Kimmerle, University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator recently held an informative presentation for 50 participants, on native Mason Bees at the Illinois Department of Natural Resources Mason State Tree Nursery near Topeka, Il. “This is just one of several Mason Bee programs I’ve given this year,” mentioned Flowers-Kimmerle. “Mason Bees are an important native bee and people of all ages have enjoyed learning about them and how to build a bee house.”

The Orchard Mason Bee is a solitary, native bee from this area. They emerge in early spring and pollinate, fruit trees, flowers, and vegetables. Due to its metallic blue-black coloring, the Mason Bee looks more like a fly. They do not make honey and they do not live in hives, but nest in hollow stems, and insect holes. Mason Bees are busy only 6-8 weeks in the spring. Females collect pollen and nectar, then lay an egg inside a hollow tube-like structure, covers the egg with mud, and continues to repeat that process up the length of the tube. She lays up to 25 eggs during her lifetime.

“Mason Bees are considered excellent pollinators because the pollen is loose and dry on their hairy belly,” Flowers-Kimmerle taught. “They stay within about 300 foot radius, meandering in a nearby circuit, which make them excellent cross pollinators, compared to the honey bee which is a long distance pollinator that focuses on one source at a time.”

Flowers-Kimmerle, explained how stress from chemicals and loss of habitat have put pressure on native bee populations. “There are a variety of ways we can help support the native bee population,” Flowers-Kimmerle taught. “For the Mason Bees we can make bee houses and easily provide them with the natural elements needed to survive: water, clay mud, and blooming flowers and trees.”

Steps to build your own bee house:

Supplies: Waterproof container, brown craft paper, pencil, tape, natural clay (optional)

1. Clean, rinse, and dry your container. It is best if the container is long enough to hold paper tubes are 6 to 7 inches long.

2. Cut paper into pieces that are 2.5 to 3.5 inches wide and about 7 inches long.

3. Use a pencil to tightly roll the paper into a tube that is 8mm in diameter and 7 inches long.

4. Use a small piece of tape to prevent the tube from unrolling. Tubes should not be reused year to year. Use new tubes to prevent the spread of pathogens.

5. One end of the tube must be closed. You can either fold the paper over and secure with tape or use a natural clay that will dry to close off the tube.

6. Put the tubes into the container. It is best if they are not all the same length. The tubes should not extend past the end of the container to protect them from water.

7. Hang your bee house on a South or Southeast facing wall at eye level for easy viewing. A wire mesh can be added to prevent birds from preying on the bees.

 

In addition to the Mason Bee lesson and bee house building project, participants also heard about the Project Wingspan program from local Pollinator Partnership staff member Holly Fainer. Mason Tree Nursery plays a key role in this 9-state project. Pollinator Partnership is working with a coalition of partners and dedicated volunteers to increase the quality, quantity, and connectivity of pollinator habitat across the Midwest and Great Lakes Region to support imperiled native pollinators and the vital habitat they depend on.

Local Extension Master Naturalists and Extension Master Gardeners volunteer at the tree nursery to help support Project Wingspan, https://www.pollinator.org/wingspan.

For more information about native pollinators and horticulture, please visit the University of Illinois Extension Fulton-Mason-Peoria-Tazewell Unit website at http://extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/.

 

— Submitted by Christine Belless, University of Illinois Extension, cbelless@illinois.edu