DIY Mason Bee House

Lizzie Homemaker diy bee house
This DIY mason bee house is made with inexpensive and recycled materials.

Many people are terrified of bees – and I think it’s a problem.  We need bees!  Pollinators are responsible for 1 in 3 bites of food we eat – and in case you haven’t heard many of them are now endangered.

Want to help save the bees?  Here’s a start:  Raise mason bees in your backyard this spring.

Unlike honeybees, mason bees are native to Canada – and they are better pollinators.  A single mason bee does the pollination work of 60 honey bees.

Mason bees are also a great choice of bee to raise with young children or to introduce in a school environment.  They are passive, gentle bees, with no hive to protect.

They’re only active for about six weeks in the spring so the time frame is ideal for those wanting a limited commitment or the ability to wrap up a project at the beginning of June.

Here’s my how-to build a bee house with kids using inexpensive and recycled items.

Materials

  • a recycled juice/milk carton
  • an empty paper towel roll
  • parchment paper (cut into 6 inch strips)
  • a pencil
  • non-toxic school glue
  • a couple of sticks (about pencil size, cut to 6 inch lengths)
  • string or nylon cable ties
  • acrylic paint (optional)

Instructions

Step #1

Lizzie Homemaker DIY Bee House recycled milk cartonCut end off carton at an angle to create a roof.  This will help protect the nesting tubes from sun and rain.  Paint exterior of carton, if desired, and allow to dry.

Step #2

Lizzie Homemaker DIY Bee House parchment paper nesting tubesLizzie Homemaker DIY Bee House parchment paper nesting tubeTo create nesting tubes, roll piece of parchment paper around a pencil, glue at the end to secure, remove the pencil and allow to dry.  Seal end of parchment nesting tubes by folding, blocking with clay, or you will need to ensure tubes are against the back of the house.

Step #3

Lizzie Homemaker DIY Bee House parchment paper nesting tubesCut paper towel roll to 6 inch length.  Randomly place nesting tubes and cardboard sticks into paper towel roll so they are tight and don’t move around.  (The random sticks will help the bees identify which nesting tube they are currently using.)

Step #4

Lizzie Homemaker diy bee house recycled juice containerPlace paper towel roll in top corner of carton.  Poke a couple holes beside the roll, then thread string or nylon cable ties around tube to secure in place.

You can add multiple rolls and other natural elements such as pine cones and dried flowers.

We also added an empty toilet paper roll covered in parchment paper with a hole cut into it.  We placed our cocoons in there to hatch.

Step #5

Hang your mason bee house at eye level, 4-6 feet from the ground, on a solid surface, like a fence or the side of a building.  One that will receive morning sunlight and not blazing afternoon heat.

Hang the house when temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius/50 Fahrenheit.

Do not put the home near a birdhouse.  Birds eat bees.  If birds are active in the area you might like to put chicken wire or florist wire over the front of the house for protection.

The bees will need access to spring flowering plants, water and mud or exposed dirt.  If there are no pollinator friendly plants in the area, I suggest you plant some.

Do not use pesticides!

Raising Mason Bees

Lizzie Homemaker mason bee cocoons
The kids examine our mason bee cocoons before we put them out to hatch.

Our family is keeping mason bees this year and we’re all very excited.

We decided to raise mason bees for a few reasons.

First off, it’s easy.  Unlike the social honey bee, mason bees are solitary bees so they don’t live in a hive that you’d have to manage – they require almost no effort.

Secondly, it’s a great hands-on educational project for the kids.  In case you’re wondering, I’m not worried about the kids getting stung.  Mason bees are extremely gentle creatures – they have no colony or queen to protect and male bees don’t even have stingers.

Lastly, pollinators are on the decline and we need to help them flourish so that we can flourish!  Since our visit last fall to the Museum of Science in Buffalo, NY, my daughter has regularly reminded me that nature doesn’t need us, we need nature: this is our little way of giving nature a helping hand.

Keeping mason bees is simple.   It requires three things:  a home for the bees, a garden for the bees, and, of course, bees.

#1 – A Home for the Bees

You can buy mason bee homes online or you can make one.  Place the house at eye level on a south or south-east facing wall that will receive morning sunlight and not blazing afternoon heat. Make sure the house is at eye level so you can watch the action unfold!

# 2 – A Garden for the Bees

Mason bees need a garden with spring flowering plants because they are only active for about 6 weeks in the spring.  They’ll need a steady supply of nectar and pollen during this time and some mud and/or exposed dirt for their nests.  By June they’re done foraging and the larvae are sealed off to become cocoons for next spring. Pesticide use is strongly discouraged since its primary purpose is to kill insects.

# 3 – Mason Bees

If you keep a garden you may already have mason bees but if you don’t, or if you want to watch these amazing insects from the cocoon stage onwards, you can simply purchase them online.  Google where to buy mason bees.

I ordered cocoons and they came in the mail.  I’ve been storing them the fridge, patiently waiting for the good spring weather to come – and now it’s time to put them out to hatch!

Place the bees outside in or near their house when temperatures are consistently above 10 degrees Celsius/50 Fahrenheit.  You should have spring flowers blooming in the garden.  You can stagger the release of the bees and put them out in a couple batches but be sure to put out a mix of males and females.  You can identify gender by the size of cocoons as the males are smaller than the females.

Watch the video above to learn more and enjoy!  It’s really that easy.