The Red Mason Bee (Osmia bicornis) (Pictures courtesy of MasonBee.co.uk)
As an allotment gardener of many years, I’ve always been keen to work with nature and encourage any beastie that’s beneficial to my endeavours. The honeybee is, of course, the one we all know and love, until we get stung, which can have serious consequences. But there is a whole world of wild bees, which are less well known. My favourites are the Red Mason Bees. These are gentle, non-aggressive solitary bees that make their nests in hollow spaces rather than in hives. They pollinate much more efficiently and effectively than honeybees and bumblebees, and they happily work alongside their nectar-gathering counterparts. In a nutshell:
• They emerge from cocoons.
• They nest in hollow spaces.
• They don't sting.
Sadly, the number of red mason bees in the wild is declining and they need our help. It is vital to our future that we safeguard their existence.
By creating bee-friendly habitats in our gardens, allotments and green spaces, and by taking an active role in helping bees fight disease and predation, we can begin to help mitigate some of the challenges facing them today. This is how I do it:
Accommodation: No need for a beehive with all the equipment, knowledge, cost, insurance, maintenance, risks etc. involved in beekeeping. These bees look after themselves. I have assembled a little ‘village’ of bee hotels on an outdoor table on my plot. In the spring, I obtain cocoons containing bee babies. These are placed in a hatching box and the bees do the rest. Once they are hatched, they fly around pollinating everything in their path; at night they sleep, often near their brood sites to protect them.
They do need a little water, which I provide in a shallow plastic saucer filled with stones and gravel, so that they can walk to the water’s edge and drink in comfort. The water also helps them make mud with which they seal their nesting tubes. That’s all they need and, of course, a lot of flowering plants to feed them. I add variation to their diet by growing flowers, mainly with single blooms. These are more attractive to bees than double flowers, where it’s difficult for them to find the pollen.
When the season comes to an end, they lay eggs in cardboard nesting tubes, which I provide in the bee hotels, and then they disappear. It is quite easy to extract the cocoons from the nesting tubes and clean and store them over the winter. I prefer to let the experts do the job and for that purpose I have become a Mason Bee Guardian (for more information see https://www.masonbees.co.uk/). I deliver my egg filled tubes to the people who run this service and they send me clean cocoons in the spring, ready for the new season. Since I started this, my harvest of filled tubes has increased year by year, so satisfying.
MAA Treasurer & Seed Secretary
4 Hazel Close, Marlow, SL7 3PW