Mason Bees


Or
Why My Kids Are Lucky To Be Alive


Apparently bee populations are in danger.  I'm going on record as being part of the problem, not the solution. 

My intentions were good last spring when I picked up my kids from my mother-in-law's.  Uncle had dropped by for quality time with them.  Being a member of his community garden, he had put the kids to work building Mason Bee Houses.

Allow me to describe these worthy abodes.  The size of your average birdhouse, they were built from sturdy, weather-resistant, BC cedar and partitioned into two floors of two rooms each. A hinged, 'single-shake' roof over the attic gave them West Coast flair.  After the kids painted them up, they were very smart indeed.  Any upwardly mobile bee of any variety would covet such a condo.

I was thrilled to see they'd done something literally constructive with their Spring Break.  And so good for the earth!  Thanks, Uncle.  I'll put them in the car right now so we don't forget them.

Wait, says Uncle.  There's more.

Oh, says I.  What are we missing?

A wire facing to keep the birdies and mice from eating the baby mason bees, says Uncle. 

Of course.  Family homes must be secure.  I'm already protective and maternal for the baby bees.

And we need the paper tubes for the bees to lay their eggs, says Uncle.

Apparently mason bees don't usually find four room cedar mansions in the wild.  They crawl into dead blackberry stalks and other naturally occurring tubes where they lay their eggs, spit out a mud plug, then come back the next day and leave another egg, possibly filling the tube with a veritable litter of mason bees.

Uncle says wrapping newspaper around a pencil is the ideal diameter for attracting mama bees.  He and the kids spend another day making several dozen mock stalks.

I do the math.  We'll be providing cradles for a whole hive of bees.  I'm beginning to feel like I'm saving the world!  I drive the houses home and set them in the garden. 

Uncle comes to visit.  You know, says Uncle, they like it if you turn the front to face east.  This way the mama warms up in the morning sun and gets a good start to her day. 

Oh, well.  Let's be hospitable landlords to the expectant mothers.  I turn the houses and note mud plugs in a few tubes.  Renters!  Look at me, nurturing the world's population of pollinators.  Solving world hunger!  Housing single moms!  I'm a good person.  And so little effort.  Put the houses in the garden and the bees emerge next spring.

Not quite, says Uncle.  When fall comes, you unwrap the tubes and leave the pupae in the attic. 

Pupae?  My cheerful tone lowers.  Unswaddle baby bees?

Yes, says Uncle.  The can chew their way out of blackberry stalks, but not layers of newspaper.  And newspaper moulds.

Right.  I make a mental note to tell husband to unwrap pupae in September.  What.  It was his brother who unloaded these high maintenance foster-insects on us.

And give them a bath before you put them to bed, says Uncle.

What?!? 

In a secret solution that will kill any mites. 

Seriously?

This uncle is not the type who teases. 

Last week I unwrapped a newspaper tube from inside one of the houses that has been sitting untouched on the deck since November. 

Go ahead and call social services. 

Is it any wonder the world's bee populations are in danger?

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