Anthony enjoys spending time in the workshop, kitchen, garden, and out fishing. Many of his DIY projects are featured in his yard.
Mason Bee House DIY
Mason bees are natural pollinators. They are also solitary, and unlike the honey bee, they don't live in colonies. Each female has to find their own crack or crevice to lay their eggs, and they seek out hollow twigs and abandoned beetle holes.
Female mason bees will readily move into the tunnels bored into this little bee house to lay their eggs. Though they do not live in hives, groups of females will nest together, and they don't seem to mind the company of their neighbors. The eggs remain dormant through the fall and winter, and offspring emerge in the spring to pollinate plants.
Making a mason bee house is a simple woodworking project that takes just a few minutes to build, and making a bee house is a great project for using a few pieces of salvaged lumber and scrap wood. It's also a fun project to make with kids.
The Cutting List
- 4" x 4" x 14" Pine Post (or larger)
- 5/16" Drill Bit
- 6" x 6" x 3/4" thick Pine or Hardwood board
The bee house is a simple structure made from a 4x4 pine post. The exact size and dimensions of the bee house are not important, so use whatever pieces of recycled lumber or scrap wood are available. If you do not have a chunky post, simply laminate a few pine boards together. The wider the boards, the deeper you can drill the holes for the nesting tunnels.
I used a piece of weathered pine post that is about 14" long. Do not use cedar or redwood, which are naturally insect-resistant and may discourage mason bees from setting up residence.
The top of the pine post is cut at a 22-1/2 degree angle to form a sloped roof to shed the rain. My power miter box is not large enough to cut all of the way through the post, so I finished the cut with a hand saw.
The 6" x 6" roof was cut from a piece of 3/4" thick cherry, recycled from an old shelf unit that was destined for the landfill. The back edge is cut at the same 22-1/2 degree angle to match the slope of the roof.
Lay Out the Holes
For a uniform pattern and a neat appearance, take a few minutes to lay out the locations of the holes before drilling. I started by measuring to find the middle of the front side of the post (the shortest side after the sloped bevel cut for the roof) and then drawing a centerline down the length of the board. Marking the center at both the top and the bottom helped ensure that the line is placed down the center of the post.
Next, I measured 3/4" in from each side, again marking both the top and bottom of the post and then drawing another set of lines for the other two rows of holes.
Starting at the top of the post, I measured down 2" and made a mark on the centerline to indicate the location of the first row of holes. Using a square, I transferred the first mark to the other two lines, marking three locations for the first row of holes.
Measuring down 1" from the first row, I repeated the process to mark the locations for each of the holes in the second row. This process continued until I reached the last row, which is about 1-1/2" up from the bottom of the post.
The bees are not fussy about the patterns for the holes, and the layout lines are purely for visual appeal. Rather than measuring and marking each hole location, you could use a small piece of pegboard (with evenly spaced holes) as a template for evenly spacing and marking the locations for the holes.
Drilling Out the Holes
A drill press makes quick work of drilling out the 24 holes in this version of the mason bee house, but a hand-held drill will work just fine too.
Drill the holes as deep as possible. I use a 5/16" brad point bit to drill deep, straight holes. Female bees prefer laying their eggs in deep tunnels, and all of the holes are at least 3-1/2 deep. Many mason bee house plans feature deeper (wider) designs allowing for longer tunnels; the deeper the depth of the nest box, the better for the bees.
Use a small piece of sandpaper wrapped around a piece of dowel (or a pencil) to clean up the edges of the freshly drilled holes.
If you have a longer 5/16" drill bit, consider drilling the holes all of the way through the post. Then, cut a "backer board" to fit the back of the post, and attach it to the back of the bee house with a few weather-resistant screws. The removable back section makes it easy to clean out the debris from tunnels after the young bees leave their nests.
Hanging Your New Mason Bee House
The roof was cut from a piece of cherry wood that I salvaged from an old shelf unit. Cut into a 6" x 6" square, the roof overhangs the post by 1" on either side and nearly 2" over the front of the bee house. Four weather-resistant nails hold the roof in place.
Though the bee house was made from salvaged pieces of weathered wood, the finished piece looked better after a quick sanding to soften the sharp edges, smooth out the saw cuts, and round over the corners of the post. A standard picture frame hanger makes it easy to hang the finished bee house.
Hang your new bee house in a sunny location in the garden. I hung one south-facing wall of our garden shed and it's ready to host the next generation of mason bees.
Identifying Mason Bees
There are over 300 different species of mason bees. The two of the most common species found in North America are the Blue Orchard Bee and the Horn-Faced Bee, while the Red Mason Bee is common throughout Europe.
Smaller than a honey bee, these little bees live for only six to eight weeks but can visit and pollinate over 1,000 blooms each day of their short lives.
Mason bees rarely sting, making them welcome guests to the garden.
- 10 Tips for Keeping Mason Bees
Keeping native non-stinging mason bees - even in urban spaces - is a surprisingly easy way to help the environment, and it's also an inexpensive and educational project for kids.
- Mason Bees-The Master Pollinators
The Mason Bee is named for its habit of using mud to build nest compartments. The orchard mason bee is one of the best pollinators around. They can easily be mistaken for a small black & blue fly about 2/3 the size of a honey bee.
- Bees, Birds and Butterflies ~ Ten Rules for Mason Bees
After 20 years, many thousand bees, many successes and several failures, this site offers their Mason Bee Rules
Invite Pollinators Into Your Garden
Keep the flowers blooming! Pollinators include including bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and other animals.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Questions & Answers
Question: Can mason bees be found in Alberta, Canada?
Answer: According to the Salisbury Greenhouse, the mason bee is a native bee species found in Alberta, Canada.
Question: Do you bring your hive into a non-heated shed in the winter?
Answer: There's no need to move the mason bee house inside for the winter. I leave mine outdoors all year long.
Question: How often should you clean the mason bee house, and at what time of year?
Answer: Mason bee houses can be cleaned in late spring, after the bees emerge from their cocoons. There are plenty of open and unused holes in my bee house, so I I have not cleaned any of the used holes.
Question: How should I clean a mason bee house for continued use?
Answer: A small stick or skewer works well for clearing the dried mud from a used tube. So far, I have not cleaned out the tubes that were used by the bees. There are still plenty of open holes that are ready for occupancy.
Question: Can saltwater driftwood be used to make a mason bee house?
Answer: Just about any type of wood can be used to make a mason bee house EXCEPT for chemically treated wood. Do not use pressure treated wood for bee or bird houses.
Question: Do The mason bees live in Texas?
Answer: According to the Native Plant Society of Texas, the mason bee is one of hundreds of native bee species found in Texas.
© 2013 Anthony Altorenna
Will You Put Up a Mason Bee House?
Anthony Altorenna (author) from Connecticut on January 22, 2019:
Thanks for visiting! Cleaning out a tube that is filled with mud could result in killing the developing wasp that's still inside. However, if the tube was used and the wasp has already left, then you could use a small stick or skewer to clear any remaining mud from the used tube. My mason bee houses have plenty of new, unused holes that are still available for occupancy, so I have not cleaned out any of the used tubes.
CARL BRACHEAR on January 22, 2019:
IT SEEMS TO ME THAT CLEANING OUT THE NEST WILL RESULT IN THE KILLING OF A GENERATION OF BEES. PLEASE CLARIFY. THANK YOU...
Bunni Rankey on April 01, 2018:
I'm learning, have made 6 small bee houses and ordered some bees from a company....very excited to experience all this as I have several fruit trees and many flowers.
Deborah Hughes on March 25, 2018:
Yes, I'm planning on making a few for my garden, along with some bug hotels
Deborah Minter from U.S, California on July 05, 2017:
Wonderful article! I've always been interested in making a Bee house..."Give bees a chance." Nice article.
Lynsey Hart from Lanarkshire on November 15, 2016:
This is a great idea. Too many people are scared of bees, so are unlikely to make such a thing. I would like to do this, but my garden is tiny and by boyfriend is terrified of anything black and yellow striped flying around. I have tried to explain that bees are unlikely to sting, but he will still run at even a buzz coming towards him. I might pass this on to my mum as her garden is much bigger, and there are no such phobias in her house. Brilliant hub.
qikey1 lm on September 03, 2013:
Yes! We love bees. Thank you for all the wonderful bee house ideas. We have plenty of scrap wood around. Looks like a great project to do with the kids...:)
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on August 04, 2013:
We have fruit trees so like having the bees around but for the past couple years we have had a major wasp problem we have been working on. They have really become a problem in our area over the past few years and are certainly prolific. Difficult to get rid of as they just keep coming back. Hope your summer is going well.
Lorelei Cohen from Canada on April 08, 2013:
You certainly are multi-talented. Your home wood crafts that are designed to blend with nature are so very impressive.
Renaissance Woman from Colorado on March 13, 2013:
This is so cool. I wasn't aware of Mason bees or the type of structure they prefer for their eggs. I'm all for bees and want to do my part in helping them. I'd love to build one of these Mason bee houses. Thanks so much for the plans and instructions. Appreciated!
anonymous on February 21, 2013:
We have t ho be thinking about taking care of all of our pollinators and it sounds like the Mason Bee does more than their share in their 6 to 8 weeks of life. It was fun to learn about them, I'm sure I've seen some variety of them and wondered what it was and would be happy to welcome them to their new home. The video was cool, more fun to watch them find their own hole since they come out on the run! Very nicely done plans with your special touches and tips along the way...as usual! FB liked for you. :)