A healthy, thriving garden needs plenty of pollinators. This native bee shelter will help keep the bees and your plants happy.

By Jenny Krane
Updated June 24, 2020
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More than half of native bee species in the U.S. are declining (and other pollinator populations like butterflies have been declining too), in part because of pesticides and urbanization. Honey bees from Europe and native bees alike are struggling to find safe places to lay eggs and continue the circle of pollinating life. Even if you’re not up for full-on beekeeping and harvesting your own honey, you can still help the native bee population rebound in your area by providing them a safe place to nest. Costco's making this easy to do with its cute bee house, perfect for mason bees that like to lay their eggs in narrow tubes.

Courtesy of Costco

The Mason Bee Barn is just $20 at Costco right now (it used to be $33!), and looks more like a birdhouse than a beehive. Mason bees are solitary, so they don’t have a hive where they live with other bees. They also don’t produce honey; they spend their lives raising their young in nesting holes. Because they don’t have a hive or honey supplies to protect, they're less aggressive than honey bees and rarely sting. Mason bees are also pollinating powerhouses, doing the job up to 100 times more effectively than honey bees.

Buy It: Native Bee House, ($20, Costco)

Mason bees need small, narrow places to nest where they can close up the ends for protection. Natural nesting tubes like reeds and bamboo stalks are commonly used for these types of native bee houses. The Mason Bee Barn uses bamboo to create nesting tubes of native bees to use for the season. The top section of the wood, house-shaped structure doubles as a butterfly shelter to help other pollinators stay safe as well.

If you have a Costco membership, you can find the bee house in stores now, and available to order online. If you're not a Costco shopper, you can also find similar bee houses online from Amazon ($30) and The Home Depot ($12). Each one has hollow bamboo tubes like the Costco bee house, making them particularly inviting for mason bees.

Placing Your Native Bee House

Situate your bee house up high in your yard in a spot that gets morning sunlight. To attract native bees, plant native plants and flowers around where your bee house is hanging. Add a moist patch of soil near the house so they have access to mud to close off the tubes. It's also best to practice organic gardening without using pesticides near where bees are.

Test Garden Tip: While native bees rarely sting, it’s still important to keep those with bee allergies in mind. Place your bee house away from high-traffic areas to minimize the chance of disturbing the insects to the point where they feel they need to protect themselves.

How to Harvest Bee Cocoons

After the mason bees have laid their eggs, you'll need to do a small amount of upkeep to make sure unwanted pests stay out of the cocoons. In the fall, remove the cocoons from reeds, bamboo, or reusable wood trays—you can store them in your garage or shed over the winter. Clean out the wood trays, discard used nesting tubes, and check for signs of parasitic wasps, pollen mites, or fungal infections like chalkbrood.

Although bees sometimes get a bad reputation, not all bees are aggressive. Native species like mason bees have tons of pollinating power to help your vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers thrive, and they mostly keep to themselves. Taking a few steps to help them out will benefit your whole garden's ecosystem.

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