Bee Bottles

Bee Bottles

21st Mar 2017

Mason Bee Directions    Leafcutter Bee Directions

How to remove the directions:  To remove the directions, you will need to remove 1-2 bee nesting tubes.  The tubes are tension fit into the bottle to keep them secure while hanging.  To remove, we use needle nose pliers and pull out a tube directly above the directions.  With the tube removed, pull the directions out and replace the nesting tube.  It may be necessary to remove more than one tube.  


Hanging the Bee Bottle:  The best place to hang your bottle is in a location with south or southeastern sun exposure and is protected from wind and rain.  Under the eave of a roof is a great location.  We use a simple hook to hang the bottle and rest the base of the bottle against a wall for added stability.  


Mason Bees:  Below are some images of Mason Bee cocoons and a Blue Orchard Mason Bee.  They are extremely gentle and amazing pollinators!


Check out the mason bee nest below.  You can see one tube filled as a female mason bee begins nesting.


Mason and Leafcutter Bees in Your Backyard - by Matt Brousil

Mason and leafcutter bees are two members of the bee family known as Megachilidae. This family has been around for millions of years and contains several thousand species worldwide, with more than 600 in the United States alone. However, these bees are pretty different from the honey and bumble bees that many of us are most familiar with. For starters, species in this family do not carry pollen on their legs, but actually on their abdomens unlike honey bees and bumble bees. Many of the bee species in this family, including the mason and leafcutter bees, are considered “solitary,” unlike the “social” honey bees and bumble bees.

A megachilid with pollen on the bottom of its abdomen. “Leaf-cutter bee” - copyright Jennifer Batty, 2010. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.0. Link to image.

Honey bees carrying pollen on their hind legs. “Honeybees” – copyright Paul Rollings, 2013. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0. Link to image.

Social bees live and communicate with each other in ways much different from the mason and leafcutter bees that you might be trying to attract to your garden. For example, they have a division of labor, with different members of their colonies playing different roles and maintaining the colony together. Solitary bees don’t live in the complex hives that honey bees build, nor do they make honey. Even bumble bees have small nests consisting of up to a couple hundred individuals. On the other hand, a female solitary bee will nest alone in the ground, in plant materials, or in some other form of small cavity.

Leaves cut and used to line the cavity nest of a solitary bee. “Cut leaves” – copyright Rob Cruickshank, 2009. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0. Link to image.

She will use mud, leaves, and other naturally available materials to construct nests. Some make adorable homes in hollowed out twigs or plant stems; others are known to even prepare their belowground nests with flower petals. But while solitary bees are self-sufficient in nesting, females of the same species will sometimes nest close to one another if the environment is ideal (hence artificial nest designs with many tubes clustered together). Despite being solitary, agricultural research has shown that these bees are quite important to pollination. In fact, solitary bees can be more efficient at pollination in some plant species than a honey bee because they are more likely to successfully transfer pollen between flowers. They are important enough in pollination that several species in the Osmia genus (mason bees) are used commercially for pollinating fruit and nut trees. Solitary bee species are useful for gardeners and farmers because of their pollination potential, but they are also less likely to sting than honey bees and are less painful when they do.

An up-close image of the orchard mason bee. Osmia lignaria. USGS Bee Inventory and Monitoring Lab, 2014. Public domain. Link to image.

Besides being useful for pollination fruit and nut trees, solitary bees also pollinate vegetable crops, native plants, and common garden species. For example, leafcutter bees are often brought in to pollinate alfalfa farms or carrot, onion, and blueberry crops. Mason bees are known to visit mustards and early blooming flowers in addition to fruit trees. Regardless of garden or farm size, these bees can be beneficial for pollination.

An important consideration to make when trying to encourage your local bee populations is the environment. Mason bees and other solitary bees have a fairly short range, meaning they tend to nest and visit flowers a few hundred feet from where they emerged. Greater amounts of food and nesting resources nearby will encourage a wider variety of solitary bees to visit. Honey bees and wild bee species tend to complement one another in their pollination services, so you need not worry about them competing. Solitary bees also tend to be somewhat adapted to their region, so it may be more effective to encourage local bee populations than to try boosting them with mason or leafcutter bees purchased from other parts of the country. This is also important considering that the past few decades have seen major decreases in the number of species of wild bees living in many areas of the United States and Europe. While honey bees are very actively managed by humans, wild bee species are both very important pollinators and most in need of additional habitat resources.

A nest box for wild bees surrounded by floral resources. “Native Pollinator Nesting Station, Mason Bees” – copyright Flickr user born1945, 2014. Licensed under Creative Commons CC BY 2.0. Link to image.

Thanks to Rachel Olsson, a graduate student at Washington State University, for input on this post.

Selected Sources and Further Reading: