Orchard Mason Bees to the Rescue

With all the bad news for feral and domesticated honey bees (Colony Collapse Disorder), we thought a little good news for gardiners might be in order. That good news is the native Orchard Bees, a mild-mannered pollinator.

Last year I purchased two orchard mason bee blocks or houses. These were made from 6x6x9 inch blocks of untreated wood each drilled with about four dozen holes on one face of the block. To protect the face of the house from the weather a roof of wood.

Mason bees like to lay eggs in holes about 5/16″ in diameter in wood. The holes are about 5 inches deep. We put the houses out a bit late in the season, March is recomended. However, we had more than a dozen of the hardworking little ladies lay their eggs and seal the holes with their characteristic mud plug (ergo, the mason bee). Other insects such as wasps may also lay eggs in the nesting blocks, but they seal the hole with a smooth mud, whereas the mason’s mud seal is rough. I have not discovered if the female mason bee puts more than one egg per chamber. This year, according to everything I have read, they will hatch, mate (after which the males will die happy), the females will pollinate like mad, and lay more egges in the same houses. One person I read about took his productive bee blocks, sawed off layers of egg bearing rows, attached the short block to a full empty block and gave them as gifts, ensuring that his gift would be “productive.”

Mason bees pollinate in any weather, unlike our honey bees who shun damp, rainy days and stay inside their hives. According the Audubon website, www.audubon.org, Kris Wetherbee (no kidding, that’s the author’s name) says it would take ten honey bees to do the pollinating of one mason.

Also, unlike the honey bee, mason bees don’t make honey. To feed their offspring, they roll up some pollen sticking it together with nectar, and put the pellet into the hole with the egg. The larvae eats the pollen pellet, forms its cryslis, grows into a bee and pushes its way into the world.

They are great pollinators for fruit trees and many Spring blooming plants. The bees start as soon as anything is in bloom, sometimes as early as March. So, if you want to build a house for Mason bees, get busy as a … well, you know.