Bee Keeper Wannabe
For quite some time now I’ve been wanting to start beekeeping. Each year I add up the costs of starting a beehive and I get discouraged. I’m not the handiest person when it comes to building my own beehive from scratch, and the start-up costs are quite high if you buy everything ready-made. My initial investment would be well over $400.
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Since we are hoping to move in about five years, I’m hesitant to start this project and then have to move bee hives 600 miles away to New York (or where ever we end up). I’ve put goats, chickens, ducks, and turkeys in my car…but I will definitely draw the line with bees! So, although I’m impatient and want to do it all NOW, I’ve decided to wait on the bees.
The Power of Pollination
One of the reasons I would like to keep bees is for their pollination abilities. Oh, sure, orange blossom honey is probably the sweetest deal bees offer, but one should not underestimate the power of pollination! Without pollinators, many of our garden treasures would not produce any food unless we hand-pollinate their flowers. That would be a very time-consuming process in a large garden. With honeybee populations in decline, we need to start looking at alternative pollinators to help keep our gardens and orchards productive…enter the Mason bee! (Note: We also need to start protecting our honeybees!)
A Different Kind of Bee House
Mason bees don’t produce a crop of honey for us to pilfer for our larders every summer, but they do offer free pollination services. All you need to do is provide a safe home for them to raise their young and they are happy to visit your fruit and veggie flowers, spreading pollen as they go. So I was particularly pleased to receive this awesome Mason bee house from my friend Maria this past Christmas! She always knows what to get this ‘hard to please’ homesteader. 🙂
If you are interested in purchasing or making a similar home for Mason bees, you can either visit a company like Gardener’s Supply in Vermont (I’m not being paid to advertise for them, but that is where my bee house came from), or you can build one with a block of wood and a drill. Use an untreated wood block at least 4 inches deep. Drill several holes 5/16th of an inch wide and 3 to 5 inches deep. The best time to hang your Mason bee house is in March, when they will be looking for a nesting spot. I hung mine a little bit late, so I may not have new tenants until next spring.
More About Mason Bees
Mason bees are solitary insects so they don’t gather in a colony or hive. The male can’t sting and the females rarely sting, so they are better than honey bees for pollination if you are allergic to bee stings. But play it safe and keep your EpiPen handy.
Don’t use insecticides or other chemicals around your Mason bee house, or in your garden. Even organic insecticides can kill bees and then they can’t pollinate your garden. Avoid purchasing plant starts that haven’t been raised organically; they may be treated with neonicotinoids, one of the culprits behind colony collapse disorder in honeybee populations. Plant plenty of pollen and nectar producing flowers in your garden to feed your bees all season long. They will repay you will increased yields of vegetables and fruits. What’s not to love about that?!