Baked Beans, Bamboo & Bees: Recipe for a Mason Orchard Bee Home

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homemade mason orchard bee home
One can, a bunch of bamboo and one home for your mason orchard bees

How to Build a Mason Orchard Bee Nest, House

I discovered the benefits of Mason Orchard Bees years ago when I stumbled upon Brian Griffin of Knox Cellars at the Washington State Flower and Garden Show. He was selling bee starter kits and generously sharing his keen knowledge of this unsung native pollinator. In the cool, wet springs (two adjectives also suited for fall and winter) of the Maritime Northwest, Mason Orchard bees are little pollinating powerhouses at a time when honey and bumble bees are holed up in their hives.  As grateful as I am to these solitary, gentle critters, there have been some years when I’ve had to take matters into my own hands and pollinate by hand. (And yes, I do look relatively ridiculous, paint brush in hand.)

Over the years, I’ve created my own Mason Orchard Bee boxes out of found materials, everything from paper straws in milk cartons to blocks of fir drilled with 5/16 inch holes to accommodate the bee larva. My latest bee house design is basically free to make and calls on tin cans and hollow sticks to do the job.

You’ll need:

  • Tall tin can
  • Bamboo (cut into small tubes)
  • One screw

bush’s baked bean can: my preferred mason bee home super-structurebamboo in a can

Assembly is a cinch. I usually wash out an empty can Bush’s Baked Beans (a staple here and unfortunate favorite of Boz and Gracie). I then drill a small hole in the bottom of the can and tighten one screw through it so the can is perpendicular to an exterior wall. It’s best placed under a sheltered eave.  Mine are attached to my barn and chicken coop.

When the can is secure, I fill the can with bamboo cut into even tubes not to exceed the end of the can. You want them to stay dry as possible. Shoot for bamboo with hollow cores around 5/16 inch diameter. Tah dah, you’re done. The bees pollinate for a short but important time in early spring and then lay eggs in the tube that will hatch next spring as whole new generation of welcomed pollinators.

bamboo straw homes for mason beesUpdate: This photo was taken a year later, after native mason orchard bees moved in. Note the capped mud ends on the bamboo tubes.  The ‘nests’ are placed under the eaves of my chicken coop for a little weather protection.

Mason and Native Bee related links:

What I was blogging about a year ago: How to Plant a Bareroot Tree

 

24 COMMENTS

  1. I love your idea! Even I can do it. Getting the bamboo will save me having to go to Mickey D’s and stealing milkshake straws.

  2. Yep Sylvie, my honeybees disappeared in late winter, and then a new hive moved in in late spring after stealing residual honey for a week or so.

  3. Hi just thinking what an ace idea recycling the cans, I use cut off lenghs of downpipe with the back seaked with a coffee jar top or similar and filled with cut up bamboo. Have a good community of bees but have a wasp problem too. I’m going to try your idea with the can. Great stuff.

    • Thanks Paula, I think the downspout is a clever idea as well. For me though, I always have an abundance of cans from baked beans (said the lazy cook). 😉

  4. […] Orchard Mason Bees for the Home Garden NWF: How to Build a Bee House USDA: Building a Nesting Block Tall Clover Farm: Baked Beans, Bamboo & Bees: Recipe for a Mason Orchard Bee HomeIdeas from the MarketplaceHouse of Bees: Natural Beekeeping & Gardening for Bees Beediverse: […]

  5. Hey Tom, I have a question. In your directions, you say to fill the can with bamboo cut into even tubes not to exceed the end of the can. But the picture shows the bamboo extending beyond the can. Which did you find to be more effective or does it matter? Thanks

    • Hi Denise, I tried both ways and it didn’t see to matter as they were protected under my chicken coop overhang. But if out in the elements I would set them back about an inch to protect from rain and snow.

  6. Hi. I am in Orlando Florida, and we don’t have a winter for the bees to hibernate. I do have fresh cut bamboo. Should I refrigerate the bamboo that has bee cocoons in it over the warm winter. Should I wash it first, to make sure there is no mites on outer side? I have room in a garage fridge drawer. I just discovered your site and am enjoying it! Hope you can help! Lisa

    • Lisa from what I understand, mason bees are in all 50 states, so you should have them in Florida. I would just put up the bee houses and see what happens. It took a year to see mine at full occupancy but it’s been worth the wait. Once they arrive, you can add more bee houses and really ramp up the pollinator population. I’ve never cleaned my bamboo and have not had any problem with mites.
      Good luck!

    • Lisa, I live east of you near Cocoa, Florida. I’d like to setup a mason bee habitat this year and then a honeybee hive a few years after. If you have started with mason bees, I’d really appreciate any personal knowledge you have gained or any online resources that are relevant to Central Florida.
      Thank you.

  7. Hi there. It is interesting you said about not cleaning your bamboo tubes.
    I have just started using bamboo after thinking, that in the wild, these bees do not have anyone to clean the holes they choose to use !

  8. Hi Tom, thanks for your quick reply.
    I started last year with some small bore plastic water pipe with paper liners.
    My Son also got Me a bee house with routed holes in which leaf cutter bees nested in. ( this got Me interested )
    The plastic pipes were over 10″ deep.
    On opening the paper liners I found that the Bees ( Mason Bees )had not used the full depth of the bore. I think I have read online that 5-7″ is about right for the bore depth, what is your opinion on this ? I have about 50 cocoons in a release box waiting near the bamboo and plastic tubes.
    I am waiting to see which the Bees prefer, I will keep you posted.
    Regards Paul.

  9. Hi Tom…How do you get the right size bamboo? Bamboo branches/trunks taper so I’d think there would only be a certain section that was the right size. Are you cutting them from some homegrown bamboo, or just buying the pieces somewhere? Down here in the Los Angeles area, I’m not sure where to find bamboo inexpensively. I do know where there is some giant bamboo growing, but even the young trunks are too large. Is there a particular variety that grows at the right size?

  10. Wow! I really like your mason orchard bees house ideas. I find it is really useful for me. Thank you so much for sharing. I will suggest your ideas to my friends. Hope more people will appreciate your posts.

  11. Hi Tom,

    You mention that the bamboo has to be 5/16″ inch hollow core – do you mean that the hole has to be 5/16″ or that the bamboo itself should be 5/16″ total diameter?

    • Hi Dale, the opening should be around 5/16″ but really I’ve found the bees adapt to smaller and larger openings, but I would gauge it on the closest to 5/16″ as ideal.

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