We are all aware of the dangers to our food systems from the loss of major pollinators. From loss of habitat to honey bee colony collapse disorder and losses from chemical farm, garden, and lawn treatments, pollinators are in trouble.
One sturdy and efficient pollinator not as prone to these issues is the mason bee. Unlike honey bees, mason bees are not social. Each female is a queen and goes her solitary way gathering pollen and laying her eggs. Ordinarily, queens will find a small hole or chink (sometimes in your house!) and fill it with eggs, packing in pollen after each egg cell and sealing the cell with mud (hence the name). Over her six-week life, the female will lay and protect about 15 eggs this way. She will also, in the process of collecting food for the larval stage of her eggs, do an amazing job of spreading this pollen, which she picks up dry all over her body and then drops lavishly everywhere she wanders.
The good news is that without much ado, you can raise mason bees and contribute to increasing their numbers across the country. Nesting boxes and tubes can be purchased reasonably, and care is minimal. Here are some rules for raising mason bees (from Honeybee Consevancy):
1. Place your house with nesting material facing the early morning sun. The warmth wakes your bees earlier to start pollinating. Crown Bees has information on setting up: http://crownbees.com/spring-bees-summer-bees
2. The Mason Bee seals each egg with mud. If she can’t find soft mud to carry in her tiny mandibles to the nest, she’ll leave your yard and set up her home elsewhere. This is the number one problem people face. For tips see the link above.
3. Harvest your cocoons in the fall to help your bees thrive, not just survive. Leaving them outdoors allows them to be unprotected from pests and weather elements. Again, see Crown Bees for how to harvest so you get more bees for next season.
Here is a video that can answer questions and help you get started: