Mason Bees (Blue Orchard Bees)
Mason bees are excellent pollinators who can help increase your fruit yields. Both gentle and low maintenance, they are an excellent alternative to honeybees. They will work in cold/wet conditions, and require minimal supplies and skill to keep successfully year after year. All fruiting plants require pollination and pollinating insects to get the job done. This little bee pal is one of the most proficient of these pollinator species. Here is how they work and live:
The Life of a Mason Bee
With the arrival spring, comes the mason bee from its cocoon, fresh and ready, the male emerges first and waits for the lady bee. Upon sight of the female, the male mason begins the mating process. The two get down to fertilizing eggs, then the male dies leaving the female to do all of the real work. Unlike their hive minded cousins, the bumble bees, mason bees work alone.
And what a lot of work it is. First, lady bee needs to find herself a home, a place where she can lay her eggs. Here’s where you come in by providing a nesting spot such as a nesting tray or a block of wood with drilled holes. Mason bees are attracted to such things and you won’t have any trouble closing deals on prime bee real estate.
Once she decides on a nesting hole, and she may look at a bunch before choosing (the lady has a right to make up her own mind), she goes out in search of nectar and pollen from the fruit trees you’re growing. She comes home from foraging and piles her haul on the nesting floor like a loaf of bread, she then lays an egg on top of it. Next, she constructs a wall of mud, sealing off the chamber and preparing for the next nursery room. She then goes through the same process of gathering, laying, sealing, repeating until the nesting hole (or tube) is full of nurse rooms, and seals off the entire tube with clay/mud. If she’s not too exhausted, she selects a new nesting hole and does it all again.
Later, inside the nest, the larva emerges from the egg and begins eating the pollen loaf the mother stored for the baby bee. The bee grows from this pollen and using all that energy from mom’s parting gift, the mason bee spins a cocoon. Inside the cocoon the larvae will pupate into an adult bee. This happens by early fall. Then the fully formed bee and chills out (literally we put them in the fridge or a cool place) until emerging with spring like her mason bee mother and father before her. And the cycle repeats.
Tree and Ladder can help you set up your own mason bee nesting box in your orchard. We will also start selling Mason Bees in February. Local bees are much better adapted to local weather conditions and our variable Portland springs.