Encouraging native mason bees and native bumblebees

A successful fruit and vegetable garden relies on pollinators. Though the blueberry plants provide an abundance of food in the spring, these pollinators need food the rest of the summer. To encourage our native pollinators, we provide flowering plants when the field is not in bloom as well as housing.

We have planted a small hedge of native plants, which flower in early spring. These include osoberry, red-flowering currant, and oceanspray. We plant sunflowers and dahlias to provide the bees food in the summer (and add color for our blueberry pickers). Adding food for the bees encourages them to stay the season and to create more bees to pollinate our field in the future.

Bumblebees can be encouraged to nest near gardens by building nest boxes as described here. We have also been lucky to have bumblebees use chickadee bird houses as their nest boxes.

For more information about bumblebees, Humblebee Bumblebee by Brian L. Griffin is a great reference for understanding these insects.

A mason bee exits a bee block after adding more mud to her nest
Providing a house for the bees can also be relatively easy - as simple as drilling holes in a block of wood. Mason bees are a good chose for those who are concerned about bee stings. These bees are gentle and only sting if roughly handled. The mason bees make nests in already formed narrow dry wood cracks. They lay eggs deep in the holes, then seal the chamber with a mixture of mud and plant fibers. The bee then lays another egg in front of the chamber and seals that egg off and continues until the last chamber is flush with the outer edge of the wood. The next year the eggs hatch and more mason bees are born. Mason bees are great pollinators and come in different sizes. So when making a bee block, try using different drill bits. The range of mason bee sizes can amaze you. Although mason bees can be bought in stores, mason bees are likely in any place with flowers. They will start using a bee block once they find one.

Bee blocks can be made from any thick piece of wood, as long as it is dry and does not contain too many large cracks Wire wrapped in front of the bee block will protect it from hungry woodpeckers. The wire is a must for any garden that is frequented by these insectivores.
The bee blocks require yearly maintenance and should be cleaned to reduce build up of parasitic wasps, which take advantage of the mason bees. Cleaning can be done by using the disposable paper straws or the holes can be redrilled to get rid of old mud.

New bee blocks are added each year to support the growing population of mason bees.

To read more about mason bees, click here.

Check out another book by Brian L. Griffin, The Orchard Mason Bee, for more extensive information on these beneficial bees.

Linbo Blueberry Farm
1201 South Fruitland, Puyallup, WA 98371

page updated: 7/11/11