What if we said that you could become a beekeeper? What would you think? Most of the responses we would receive back would be, "That is a lot of work and I don't have the time for the upkeep." or "I'm allergic to bees." But, what if we told you there is a cute little bee that is native and out performs the honey bee by a ratio of 1:100 requiring very little maintenance. Are you intrigued?
We would like to introduce to you the Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria). This small solitary bee lives in holes that are already existing within nature, like thin reeds or holes left behind by birds or insects. With no queen to defend, the mason bee is a very gentle and docile creature. Typically non-stinging as only the females have the ability to do so. However, should you happen to get the rare chance, the venom is more like an irritating mosquito bite and does not cause anaphylactic shock.
The Orchard Mason Bee is an essential companion to your fruit trees. As the female mason bee stuffs pollen into the stiff hairs on her abdomen, some falls off likely pollinating the flower. A honey bee on a typical day only pollinates five percent of the flowers it visits. The mason bee pollinates an estimated 95% and is able to visit twice as many flowers per day.
The life cycle of the mason bee begins in early spring. As the temperatures start to maintain at 50 degrees, the bees will emerge. This tends to coincide with the blossoms of the fruit trees. The males have been laid toward the front of the nest. Being the first to emerge, they tend to stay close to the nesting site waiting for the females to emerge. As the females egress, the first thing they do is mate. Very soon after the male bees die and the females get started on creating their nests. They begin by finding a hole to their liking, and then gather pollen and nectar from nearby flowers. The pollen is then placed toward the back of the hole until a suitable amount is gathered, then the bee lays her egg on top of the mass. The neat thing is that she can determine the sex of each egg. She lays the female eggs deep in the nest for protection. When she is done with the chamber, she gathers mud and seals up the partition. She then gets started on the next chamber. This process will continue over the next few weeks until her death. By summer the eggs have hatched and the young larva survives on the pollen gathered by the mother. The larva then begins to spin itself in a web which it will hibernate in throughout the fall and winter, then making the transformation into a bee. Next spring the cycle will start all over.
You can help the mason bee by providing suitable nesting sites within easy reach. Sometimes good nesting sites for the bee are few and far between. We have many different types of nesting houses in stock for you to place in your yard. Regardless of the system chosen, placement is extremely important. A south or east facing wall is ideal. You will want this area to receive direct sunlight and still be protected from rain. Well below the eve, on an east facing wall is the perfect spot, if doable. In October, protect your nests by storing them in an unheated building such as a shed. You can even store them in your refrigerator.
Winter is the perfect time to get your habitat set up for your bees. This way you will be ready when it is time to place your new little pollinating friends out to help you reap a great harvest come fall. Come on in and we are more then happy to help you get the perfect set up and answer any of your questions.
Join us this Saturday March 30th at 10AM here at Alpine Nursery and Landscape for a class on Mason Bees!