Blue Orchard Mason Bees: The Bee Whisperer's Friend
If you are a backyard gardener in North America, you may have noticed a decline in your fruit and/or vegetable production. Over the past 4 to 5 years, in many city and suburb gardens, inadequate pollination has been the cause of fewer and smaller fruits and vegetables. This is a direct result of the decimation of the wild honey bee population due to Colony Collapse Disorder in which worker honey bees fall ill and die at a higher rate than normal or simply disappear. The disorder has recently been identified as possibly being the result of two parasitic mites - Varroa and tracheal mites.
While there are many winged pollinators; butterflies, moths, and wasps to name a few, the majority of the pollination duties fell to the humble honey bee (sometimes called the bumblebee). Until the advent of Colony Collapse Disorder, the worker bees kept up admirably; and, no one gave them much thought. Then disaster...colony after colony after colony failed to thrive causing the eventual abandonment and death of that hive.
Colony Collapse Disorder has become so prevalent that many countries are trying creative alternatives to help boost the bee population. Some growers are now putting a hive in the middle of their fields so the bees have access to food right outside their front door. With food so close, the bees benefit from the easy pickings and the farmer enjoys higher yields due to better pollination.
While there are many benefits from having beehives in the crop production fields, not every farmer wants to deal with the maintenance required. Nor does every farmer or backyard gardener have the land required to turn over to a hive. Can you imagine a hive on a balcony?
So what does an evironmental earth muffin with limited space; and, a big desire to help out the pollinators of the world do? Two words...mason bees.
Mason bees are the ultimate condo dwellers of the insect world. They are solitary - wanting nothing to do with each other - but, they still want the security group living brings. Mason bees live in small, dry nesting holes without a second entrance. They prefer an entrance of 7.5 mm (5/16 inch); but, will use holes that slightly larger or smaller if their preferred size is unavailable. In the wild, mason bees use holes created by other animals such as beetles or woodpeckers. Mason bees got their name from their habit of making compartments of mud in their nests to separate one egg from another.
Mason bees are amazingly non-aggressive; and, will only sting when squeezed or stepped on. In fact, they are so laid back that if the hole to their nest is blocked, they will wait until the object is moved rather than sting.
Unlike honey bees, mason bees are solitary; with every female being fertile and making their own individual nest. There are no worker mason bees because they make no honey or beeswax; and, there is no hive to maintain. Enough pollen is gathered to nourish themselves and leave enough food in every cell for the developing egg inside. With no hive or honey to defend, this could go a long way to explaining their pacifistic natures.
Native throughout continental USA and southern Canada, Blue Orchard Mason bees are super-efficient, hard-working spring crop pollinators. A single female mason bee will visit nearly 2,000 blossoms a day. A smaller orchard or planted area can be adequately pollinated by 40-50 bees. Ten mason bees will pollinate thousands of blossoms; or, a well-planted balcony and surrounding neighbourhood.
So...by providing a home for mason bees not only does the individual garden or balcony thrive; but, the entire neighbourhood will see an increase in yield where ever pollination is a factor.
A short video on caring for mason bees.
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