It’s in the best interest of gardeners, farmers, and anyone who eats, to support the health and well-being of Mason bees, a valuable early season pollinator. Independent, adaptable, and resilient, mason bees emerge from their cocoons at the first hint of warmth in spring and fly in wet and windy weather, which pretty much defines spring here in the Pacific Northwest, conditions that keep other bees grounded.

Pollinator Mason bees

While Mason bees are entertaining to watch, the real benefit is increased pollination in the garden. Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

Tune into Bee TV

For years, I’ve had a mason bee “hotel” in the garden, a teardrop-shaped box filled with hollow bamboo tubes to provide nesting space. These gentle, non-stinging bees are fascinating to watch as they begin to emerge from last year’s mud-stopped cocoons, typically sometime in early March here in the Pacific Northwest. I call my box my Bee TV, it’s as compelling as the latest Netflix show and a welcome heads up that spring is right around the corner.

Mason bees don’t look like what we think a bee should look like. In fact, they more closely resemble a fly, although a very attractive metallic greenish-blue fly. And while they live and nest in proximity to others Mason bee are loners. Solitary by nature, each female mason bee forages for food, prepares a nesting environment and lays eggs all on her own.

Mason bee nesting site

The next season of (Mason) bee TV is about to drop. Photo: Lorene Edwards Forkner

Every garden matters

Once viewed as backup pollinators when honeybees were imperiled, solitary bees have proved to increase pollination in the company of other bees and are now recognized as critical to a sustainable food system. Important stuff.

Unlike honeybees that forage for miles gathering pollen and nectar, native solitary bees, including Mason bees, stick very close to home – only venturing about 300 feet from their nesting site. Even a moderately large parking lot or a ball field is an insurmountable barrier. Habitat fragmentation is a problem in urban areas as well as agricultural fields. Urban yards, parks and median strips go a long way toward providing pathways through our cities allowing pollinators to leapfrog from one landscape to another.

It’s likely that your garden is already home to this industrious pollinator. Mason bees are native to North America and naturally nest in garden cavities and holes created by birds or other insects. Chemical-free gardens are filled with wildness: plants, animals, birds, and insects. What’s more, we humans are a part of that wild mix. Tending a garden, no matter how big or how small, puts us in a relationship with the natural world.