Family Farm

Family Farm

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Mason Bees

The shortage of honey bees due to parasitic mites and mystery diseases is a real threat to the health of our crops!
We need these precious pollinators to grow food….mason bees to the rescue!
I’ve been unfamiliar with mason bees until lately, but as story after story of “colony collapse” come across my desk, I am concerned about proper pollination of my growing orchard and vineyard.
Mason bees, or Osmia lignaria, are orchard bees.  Ailments that have destroyed many a honey bee hive have not affected the mason bees to this point, perhaps because the mason bees are native to America.
Honeybees were introduced to America by the Europeans about 400 years ago.
While Mason bees do not produce honey, they bring many other valuable benefits to the table.  Once again, they are wonderful pollinators.  Mason bees continue to be active in colder weather and their hairy bodies carry more of the pollen that fertilizes your blossoms.
Mason bees are also a gentle bee who won’t ever chase or sting you, unless severely provoked.  I feel good about that with all the children running around the yard all summer.

Attracting Mason Bees

Mason bees build their mud sealed nests in natural tubes like reeds or holes in dead trees in the wild.  Sometimes they make their homes between wood shingles on houses and barns. (They do no damage – they just build their mud homes in sheltered cracks.)
Currently, extension research by the USDA has proved that the mason bee task is made much easier if we provide  6″ paper-lined tubes 5/16″ in diameter, that are somewhat weatherproof and contained in a protective shelter.
By using smooth tubes, we allow the female Mason bee to channel her extra time and energy into laying more eggs.
I purchased the above mason bee hive from Miller Nurseries and placed them at each end of my garden/orchard area.

The Mason Bee Life Cycle

Those mud sealed tubes contain the entire future population of Masons, males and females.    All of last year’s adults have completed their lives by the end of the previous Spring.
Each 6″ tube contains 6 or 7 separate compartments, each with one egg and a food store pellet of pollen and nectar.  In summer, the eggs hatch and the grubs feed.  By September, they mature into adult bees that stay in their home of mud until the blossoms come forth the following Spring.
I’m excited about the potential of these pollinating helpers, and it’s pretty inexpensive to purchase a few nests or even make your own replacement nests.  Purchasing the bees themselves is another option as you can grow a colony in just a few years!

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