Southold beekeeper Laura Klahre bent down to peer into stacks of filled and hollow plant stems. At first glance, they looked like 6-inch cigars, plugged with dried mud. Nestled within the stems, she said this spring, were about 1,800 cocooned mason bees in hibernation. Mason bees — one of 450 wild bee species in New York State and one of more than 4,000 nationally — are not as well known as honeybees and bumblebees. However, their pollinating prowess and nonaggressive dispositions make these blue, native American bees worthy of accolades, said Klahre, 44, who has been tending bees for 20 years.
Blooming apple trees and bees
“I started raising mason bees about six years ago when I realized, ‘They’re the future,’ ” said bee rancher Laura Klahre. “Pollination is the keystone for how our world works.” Mason bees don’t make honey as the honeybee and bumblebee do, but, Klahre said, they pollinate flowers two to three times better, with furry bodies that easily deposit pollen when they “belly flop” onto flowers. In May 2017, Klahre checks on the apple trees in full bloom at Surrey Lane Farm in Southold. Mason bees had been released to pollinate the orchard.
A bee cottage, all abuzz
A female mason bee returns from foraging for mud to seal in the tubes where she has laid eggs and left pollen and nectar to feed the new bees. This cottage was busy in May 2017 at Blossom Meadow Farm in Southold.
Nectar and pollen gathering
A male horned-face mason bee (Osmia cornifrons) lands on an apricot flower at Surrey Lane Farm in Southold in April 2017. Bee rancher Laura Klahre says mason bees are active among spring crops such as apples, peaches and cherries. Their six- to eight-week cycle ends around mid-June.
Sealing her nest
After laying an egg, a female mason bee makes multiple trips to gather mud and closes up the tube by sculpting a mud wall to protect her young from predators, sealing in the eggs with pollen and nectar to feed new bees. In a six-inch tube, one female can lay up to 11 eggs with each separated by a mud partition. This mason bee was busy in May 2017.
Mason bees fly early
Habitats with plant life, including residential and commercial gardens, can benefit from bees’ pollination, Klahre said. These apricots are one of the earliest fruit trees to bloom, as this one did on April 13, 2017, making mason bees even more important for pollination as they will fly in cold drizzly conditions when many other bee species opt to stay at home.
Nesting near crops
A mason bee nesting structure sits among apricot trees at Surry Lane Farm in Southold on March 31, 2016. Because mason bees can only travel the length of a football field from their home — a honeybee can travel up to three miles from its hive — people can keep mason bees on the crops they want, Klahre said. Oftentimes these are spring crops such as apples, peaches and cherries, as mason bees finish their six- to eight-week season around mid-June.
Keeping mud handy
Klahre makes sure there is mud near a mason bee nesting structure in March 2016. The mud the bees use to seal their nests like cement masons has given them their name.
Mason bees live solitary lives
A bee bundle hangs from a fence at Surrey Lane Farm in Southold. The ability of mason bees to nest in pre-existing holes makes it easy to provide habitat for them. People don’t need to fear having mason bees on their properties because they’re “sweethearts,” Klahre added. Male mason bees don’t have stingers, and females avoid stinging because, unlike honeybees, they both collect pollen and lay eggs. “Mason bees are solitary,” Klahre said, noting that this means they don’t belong to a colony or hive. “So the female doesn’t want to get into a fight with you and die, because then she’s not getting her genes into the next generation.”
By themselves but never alone
A mason bee cottage holds natural reed tubes that are less than a half-inch in diameter at Blossom Meadow Farm in Southold. Mason bees use empty cavities rather than building their own nests. They are solitary creatures but are fine with living next door to someone else.
A gentle being
Beekeeper Laura Klahre holds a female Blue Orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) in her palm. Mason bees are gentle, she says, and rarely sting. The males do not have the ability to sting.
Checking on the work
Bee rancher Laura Klahre, of Southold, looks for native bees pollinating the fruits and vegetables at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm on Shelter Island in June 2016. Klahre is a bee rancher, especially of mason bees. Her own 2-acre plot in Southold is teeming with flowers, like giant blue hyssop and butterfly weed. Flowers and a place to live are all mason bees need to thrive, she said. That, and no pesticides.
A visit to bee cottages
Bee rancher Laura Klahre checks her mason bee cottages at Blossom Meadow Farm in Southold in May 2017. Though mason bees have flown under the radar, Klahre said bee ranching — or raising mason bees — is gaining in popularity
A bee rancher's life is busy
Klahre monitors nesting success by counting mudded tubes at Surrey Lane Farm in Southold in May 2017. She said she knew of no other bee rancher on Long Island when she began her enterprise six years ago. Now that number has grown to more than 35 ranchers..
Mason bees wind up their season
Bee rancher Laura Klahre sits by her mason bee cottages at Blossom Meadow Farm in Southold in late May 2017. The mason bees who get busy in early spring or late winter were winding up their work, finishing their six- to eight-week season around mid-June.
Harvesting bee cocoons
As part of her bee operation, Laura Klahre, left, demonstrates how to harvest cocoons at the annual Mason Bee Cocoon Harvest Party at Blossom Meadow Farm in Southold, where she is a founder and co-owner. Mason bees live solitary lives and lay eggs in beekeepers cylinders -- instead of in hives.
A delicate operation
Laura Klahre gently removes cocoons containing hibernating mason bees from the nesting block in November 2015 at her Blossom Meadow Farm in Southold. She said that she knew of no other bee rancher on Long Island when she began her enterprise six years ago. Now that number has grown to more than 35 ranchers.