Friendly Pollinators

Mason Bee

HerbDoc just loves her mason bees:

I’ve always wanted to keep bees and even went so far as to take the beekeeping course two years ago.  Unfortunately my husband is highly allergic to beestings, and I was never able to go very far in my quest. Recently I decided to try to attract the Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria) instead.

These tiny blue black bees are very gentle and are termed “nonsocial” because they don’t live in hives.  Although many may be present in the same location, they don’t share nests or help to provide for or protect each other’s young.  In nature they nest in hollow stems, insect holes and woodpecker drillings.  Luckily for gardeners, they will also nest in holes drilled in untreated wooden blocks.  Holes should be 5/16” in diameter and 4-8 inches deep.  Smaller or shallower holes encourage a higher production of male bees which reduces the reproductive potential of the overall population.

A female mason bee forms a small ball of pollen and nectar in the back of the nesting tube and lays an egg in the ball.  She then collects mud, makes a cell partition, and repeats the process until she reaches the opening of the tube.  The entire tube is then capped with a mud plug.  These overwinter with the males emerging first right around the time the redbud blooms.  Females emerge, mate and begin the process of finding new nests.

Many pre-made mason bee “homes” are available from gardening supply companies.  These range in price from around $16 to more than $60. I ordered the bamboo house from Gardeners Supply.  Suggested siting is against a tree or a wall where the home will receive morning sun.  It should also be within 100 yards of the garden to be pollinated.

A home made mason bee house, fully occupied!

It is said that these little bees visit as many as 1000 blooms per day – that’s 20 times more than a honeybee!  Since they don’t produce honey and are non aggressive, they seem to be the perfect choice for my garden.

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About dirtynailz

Writer for a daily newspaper, gardener, tree hugger, orchid-grower, photographer, animal lover, hiker, wilderness seeker. Proponent of clover in the lawn and a dog on the bed.
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4 Responses to Friendly Pollinators

  1. lazygardener says:

    Some vendors who sell mason bee houses also sell the bees. Resist the temptation to colonize your garden this way: interstate shipping of live bees has been associated with the spread of insect diseases.

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  2. HerbDoc says:

    Thanks for letting us know! I didn’t plan on buying the mason bees; I’m the optimistic type…if you build it, they will come! 🙂

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  3. MT says:

    I have only one precaution as I once had a neighbor who tried to keep bees. Bees get thirsty on hot August days too. If your neighbors have pools, they like to land on wet bathing suits to get a drink. This was especially not popular with the ladies. Long story short, he brought them to a nearby farm owned by McGill U.

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  4. HerbDoc says:

    As far as I know, none of my neighbors have pools, and I keep several birdbaths and small watering dishes (my term…I fill clay saucers with sand and keep them very damp) for the butterflies and small insects looking for a drink on hot days. These bees don’t sting unless they are really smacked or squashed, but I can see where it would unnerve folks to have bees landing on their suits!

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