A Little Help From My Bees

Featuring Of Milk and Honey, Lynnwood

I have had a love hate relationship with bees my entire life. My love for honey (I use it in and on everything) and wanting to help the bee population has been at war with my allergy to bee stings for the last year. As much as I wanted to put honey bees in my garden, it wasn’t an option.

Just when I thought all hope was lost in the bee department, I came across a Facebook post by Of Milk and Honey of Lynnwood talking about Mason Bees. What caught my eye the most, that they could help my garden and wouldn’t sting me. It was the perfect solution and we are hatching some as I type.

How have my adventures with Mason Bees been going. They arrived as cocoons, and remained refrigerated (hibernating), until we got their little home all set up in our garden and provided them with some clay holes for nesting. Once we got our little guys out into warmer conditions, it was a waiting game.

We found one already hatched when we opened the box containing our cocoons (pictured above). Another two slowly began the process of hatching, which we were lucky enough to watch and record. It was beyond exciting watching them trying to break their way out, and their little fuzz was so adorable. Once big bug eyes came out though, I remembered what they were and it was off to their outdoor home to finish hatching.

In the last two weeks we have had twelve more hatched, and our little babies are already laying babies of their own. Two of our little bamboo tubes are already sealed off with clay, safely containing eggs. Can you believe it! We don’t see the bees much, but these signs that they are there and hard at work are awesome! 

Here’s more info on Mason Bees from Of Milk and Honey owner Katy:

Why is it important for people include bees in their gardens?

All bee species are currently in a state of decline, some to the point of being listed as an endangered species.

What are the differences between mason and honey bees?

With Honey Bees, there is a single Queen bee who lays eggs in a hive that is filled with many thousands of worker bees. The workers gather pollen and nectar, [that] they convert into honey [and] store in comb that is made from wax produced from their own bodies. The whole hive works together as a massive colony. Individual bees may sting if they feel threatened.

By contrast, mason bees do not live in a hive or form a colony. They don’t produce honey or wax [because] they don’t collect nectar. They do collect pollen [though]. Mason bees are solitary creatures, living in holes, tubes, and tunnels. Each female is her own “queen”. She has no worker bees, so she not only lays the eggs, but she also gathers the pollen to feed them. The most surprising difference, though, is that mason bees are gentle. They have no colony to defend, so they flee rather than sting intruders.

What makes Mason Bees a good Choice?

Mason bees are a better choice for most people. They require less time, less money, less space, less equipment etc. [Plus], there are a number of people that have a severe allergy to bee or wasp stings. Mason bees, while they can technically sting, virtually never do so. They are far more likely to fly away than to risk losing a fight. In the unlikely case that one were to sting, there is no venom, no possibility of an allergic reaction.

How are mason bees good for gardens?

Gardeners will achieve better results when using mason bees (and other native bees) in their gardens. Besides being more acclimated to our spring weather [than honey bees], the mason bees are also superior pollinators. Because mason bees collect pollen alone, without nectar, it stays dry and loose. This allows the pollen to fall off easily as they travel from flower to flower.

It is estimated that one mason bee can do the work of 60 honey bees! Better pollination means more vegetables, larger fruit, and better seed production. The result is more food and flowers for us, and more food and flowers for the animals around us.

What are the most important things to know when starting a mason bee home?

It’s all about the nesting tubes. There are three things to look for in a house, whether you are buying kit or making the house yourself. The first thing to look for is the diameter of the tubes. Spring mason bees like an 8mm hole. Summer bees prefer smaller holes, usually 6mm.

Second, the length of the tube matters. Mason bees always lay female eggs in the back of the tube, and they lay male bees closer to the front of the tube. Having a nesting tube or hole that is 6” long will give them the perfect ratio of male to female bees.

Finally, it is vital that the tubes or holes be easily replaced, or easily opened for cleaning. Mason bees can be troubled by diseases, pests, and predators. I recommend removing the bee cocoons from the next tubes, checking them over for any issues, then storing them until the next season. When the time comes, put out new nesting tubes so that your bees are always getting off on the right foot.

Are there any plants/flowers that are essential or best for mason bees?

Any plants you grow for your bees should be free of pesticides that can harm them. But as for which plants to grow, there is really only one rule of thumb: plant native for native bees! In my own garden, I have planted Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium), several varieties of Lupine, and Douglass spiraea (Spiraea douglasii).

Of course, you aren’t strictly limited to native plants. My bees will happily pollinate just about every herb under the sun, including rosemary, sage, chives, and lemon balm. And don’t forget the trees! In Snohomish County we have a lot of wild filbert (aka hazelnut) trees, along with apple, plum, cherry, and apricot trees.

You both mason and honey bees. How does each benefit you?

Right now I have 7 mason bee houses set up on 3 different pieces of property. The majority of the houses are at my own home, with three near my fruit trees and one near my vegetable garden. The trees produce so much more fruit now than they did in the past. I have had to remove about 70% of the apples from my apple tree because the branches just can’t support the weight of all that fruit.

I [also] have 6 [honey bee] hives. I don’t keep [them] for pollination [though], that’s what my mason bees are for. The honey bees are my income producers. I sell the surplus honey that they produce, but I reserve some of the honey and the scrap beeswax for making bath and beauty products.

I have two reasons for adding honey and wax to my products. First, it gives me a great reason to talk about bees! Second, they are actually fantastic ingredients. Adding honey to a bar of soap increases the lather, so you get lots of bubbles. The beeswax hardens the soap bars, so they last about twice as long as a standard bar of cold-process soap. I also use the beeswax as an ingredient in products besides soap. The wax has anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antimicrobial properties. This makes it a natural choice for salves. It can also create a protective layer, while still allowing skin to breathe. This makes it great for lotion bars as well as lip balms.

You can find out more about Of Milk and Honey, buy her bath & beauty products, and even buy bees at www.ofmilkandhoney.org

Did you know that this article, as well as all of the others featured on our website are part of a monthly magazine. Our monthly magazine is available in both electronic and print form (yes, you read right, print!). As if that wasn’t awesome enough, each issue contains exclusive content that can’t be found on our website or social media accounts. So if you aren’t getting a copy each month you are missing out.

Single issues can be bought HERE and annual subscriptions, which include exclusive giveaways and discounts, can be signed up for HERE. Finally, a limited number of printed copies are available at The Chic Boatique,  Artisans Mercantile, and Tried & True Boutique in Snohomish and Reclaimed Heart in Arlington, Vintage Company No. 7 in Bothell, Dahlia’s Vintage Marketplace on Camano Island, Rustic Redemption in Granite Falls, and Vintage & Rust in Monroe.

Let us know what you think! Share your comments and experiences below and don’t forget to spread the love on social media at the bottom of the page.

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