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Mason Bees: Easy to Raise and Gentle Enough to Touch

The Mason Bee is Gentle and Easy to Raise!

 

In recent years, concerns have been mounting over the environmental impacts of the decline in pollinators. This concern has given rise to a focused conservation of people who want to take an active role in protecting, enhancing, and fostering agricultural pollination through beekeeping.

Mason Bees, also known as Orchard or Blue Orchard Bees, are one of the 4,000 species of bees found in North America. They are easy to raise, gentle, inexpensive, educational, and great for the environment. Mason Bees are incredible pollinators that will do wonders for your fruit crops and gardens. Raising them also helps reduce the pressure of the overworked and currently stressed Honey Bee population.

There are approximately 140 different Mason bee species found in North America with about 200 species found worldwide. The Osmia Lignaria is one of the most common species found in the Pacific Northwest and are known for their great pollination skills specifically focused on spring flowers, fruits, and nuts. They resemble a common house fly representing themselves with a black body and a dark blue iridescent sheen.  In scientific terms, they are a megachilid bee (meaning solitary) that makes nests in reeds and natural holes, creating individual cells for its brood that are separated by mud dividers. They are commonly used for spring fruit blooms in both Canada and the United States.

Unlike the garden variety Honey Bee, Mason Bees are non-social insects that nest in holes rather than in a hive with a queen. They prefer a solitary lifestyle, working alone, although like to nest in groups when possible. There is no formal agreement between the bees in regard to the nest’s construction or how the brood is reared – therefore, no aggression!

The female carries pollen on the underside of her hairy abdomen, returning to her nesting hole and then scraping the pollen off. Because the pollen is carried dry on her hair, it falls off easily as she moves among flowers. This results in significantly more pollinated flowers than her cousin, the Honey Bee, who wets the pollen and sticks it to her legs during transport to the hive. The Mason Bee, who efficiently gathers pollen and nectar on the same visit, is also an awesome cross-pollinator. She busily flutters back and forth between branches or trees, instead of focusing on stripping pollen and nectar from one source.

The Orchard Bee gains its name from the way the females protect their eggs. They will form an egg chamber in the hole they have created then seal it with mud – repeating this process until the hole is filled with eggs and mud. They live about eight to ten weeks in the spring beginning mid-March to May or early June. Once their season ends they will hibernate for approximately ten months.

 

Reasons to keep Mason Bees and some friendly advice:

Mason Bees are gentle – do not BEE afraid. Male Orchard Bees do not have stingers and the females are simply too busy to gather mud, build her nest, gather pollen, and protect her hole – so she just concentrates on the gathering and building. Stinging is possible but most people suggest it is akin to a mosquito bite.

Pollen is super important so building a BEE friendly garden helps to beautify your environment and also helps improve the pollinator’s health and chances of conserving the species.

Place your house with nesting material facing the early morning sun. The warmth wakes your bees earlier to start pollinating. You will also want to make sure that food is available within about 300 feet of the nest — this is as far as the bees will travel. The bees need to warm up to 80 degrees for their wings to function. Mason bees’ black bodies can soak up rays even when it’s only 58-64 degrees outside, making exposure to direct sunlight very important.

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.

Nesting materials should also be careful considered. Pull-apart wooden blocks, cardboard with paper lining, drilled blocks and homemade paper tubes can all work well for nesting. Pull-apart wooden blocks can be a great material since they’re porous (allowing moisture to escape), and they’re easy to clean, sanitize, and re-use. These materials should also be considered to protect the bee from predators – If you’re using a paper product and have lots of squirrels, chicken wire can be added around the box to prevent them from pulling the tubes out and devouring the contents.

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. Nesting units need to be protected from rain and wind. Keeping them mounted with the cavities tilting slightly down will prevent rainwater from entering and creating harmful mold. Securing the nesting units will also prevent movement that could dislodge eggs or young larvae. The space may only be a mere 3/8 of an inch, but the babies are too weak to crawl back in. Take care to note when the nesting begins and when to set out materials.

Another important note is to care for your Mason Bees much like caring for a fish tank. Nesting materials need to be cleaned and sanitized so not only will the bees appreciate a healthy home but you can continue to appreciate their pollination efforts.

And most importantly – plant to attract! If you are interested in materials for beekeeping or just want to provide your neighborhood Mason Bees some delicacies – visit your local Country Store and pick up your essentials!

Contributed by Selene Muldowney, Marketing Assistant