Orchard Mason Bee Guide

Orchard mason bees will launch you on one of the most exciting adventures of your life. The bees are efficient pollinators and will visit approximately 1,600 to 2,400 blossoms per day and pollinate nearly all of them. A honeybee will “set” or pollinate only 2 or 3 dozen blossoms per day.

Two-hundred and fifty orchard mason bees will pollinate an acre. In early spring honey bees are not flying because of the cold. Orchard mason bees hatch out in early spring at the time most fruit trees blossom and live for only 4-6 weeks so they will only pollinate plants blooming during that this period.

Placing the Bee Nesting Straws

The placement of you bee nesting straws is important. Under the protecting eaves of a house or shed is an ideal location for your bees. An east or south wall is best because the bees warm and get to work earlier in the day. The north side of a building is the least desirable. The bee straws are inserted in guard tubes for their protection and painted black on the front. The black end must be facing forward. Since the bees come to you in straws, there are several ways to place them in your yard. They can lay in a tin can mounted horizontally, or wired to the bottom of a bee house. They must lay flat. Whether on the house or on outbuilding, be sure to place the bee nesting straws so they do not get direct rain or wind. If you do not have a suitable building on which to locate the bees, erect rain a rain roof to protect them.

Mounting blocks in trees is our last choice because the block is shaded and unprotected. If this is the only location available to you, attach them securely in a covered place that gets earliest exposure to the sun. The bees will travel about the length of a football field (about 100 meters), so place the bees near the trees or crops to be pollinated.

Cocoon Cleaning Using Sand And Tube Method

Starter Bees

Starter bees are shipped just before early spring and are ready to hatch at the appropriate time for your area. The bees can survive very cold weather, but will not survive in arid regions of the American Soutwest. If winters in your area are below freezing, put the bees in a cardboard box insulated with newspaper or move into a cool shelter such as a garage when outside temperatures are below 10 degrees. Your Bees can be stored in a refrigerator for especially cold periods of weather. Place them in a glass jar or zip-lock bag. It is best to place the bees outside attached to a bee nesting structure as early as possible. In our part of Oregon this is March 1st at the latest, east of the Cascades, three to four weeks later. This is the time (within a week or two) that the fruit trees bloom. The bees start hatching a week or two before fruit trees bloom and live for six to eight weeks. To gauge this time in your area, ask your county extension agent or find out when the earliest shrubs and trees bloom in your area. Shrubs and trees they coincide with the hatching of mason bees are camellias, daphnes, heaths and heathers, forsythia, pieris japonica, maples and magnolias.

It is important for the bees to have a supply of pollen. Planting shrubs and trees that bloom just before and after your fruit trees (which usually only bloom for two weeks during the life of the bee) will ensure the best pollination success and reproduction conditions for your bees. Don’t wait until your fruit trees blossom to set the bees out. You want them to come out at their normal time, feed on other things, and when your fruit trees bloom the bees will be strong and active and will pollinate your fruit. These bees are native to North America. Supplying additional pollen sources ensures your bees reproduce and stay where you want them.

The Life and Love of the Mason Bee

Male bees emerge first and are active for a few days before the females appear. While orchard mason bees are interesting to watch, and very rarely sting, be careful when walking near the bee nesting straws as male bees often swarm the female(s) when she emerges and they tumble to the ground. After this brief period or “romance”, she will immediately start her lifes work which is to make more orchard mason bees. She will need proper nesting holes of at least 5/16 of an inch in diameter, pollen on which to feed herself and her young, and mud. If you are watering your garden and it is near your fruit trees, that should be sufficient. However, if there are no nearby sources of damp earth, scoop out a small, shallow depression in bare earth near the nest and fill it with water. Don’t let it dry out completely before mid-june. The female bee will seal her nesting hole with mud (hence the ”Mason” part of her name) after she has laid her eggs. She must have sufficient pollen for herself, but more importantly, she stores pollen and nectar for each of her eggs. She will do this for about the next thirty days. She will lay about thirty-five eggs in her lifetime. Introduced bees multiply about six fold yearly. There are approximately 2 males for each female egg laid.

Do’s and Don’ts

After bees have started emerging, do not move homes until fall. If you feel your nesting site is not in the right place, provide another. If the female has laid eggs and you move the block too soon you risk killing the offspring. Remember, these bees are usually in the environment and the more nesting places you provide, the more native bees will be attracted. Do not help bees emerge. Be patient. Nature has programmed them to come out at the right time. The dates given are approximations. Some bees may come out before given dates, some after. Each environment is unique. Do not spray toxic materials during the time the bees are alive.

If birds seem to be bothering your bee nesting block you can protect it with a cover of 1/2 inch hardware cloth. Their needs for survival are few and they have few predators. Orchard mason bees are found throughout North America and have survived quite well without our help. But with the decline and possible extinction of the honey bee, our help in the increasing the mason bees will contribute to the necessary pollination of our early fruiting trees and shrubs.

By supplying a nesting site (orchard mason bees do not make their own) pollen and mud, you have ensured the maximum survival and reproduction of this amazing little bee.

Making a mason bee block is easy – attracting the bees takes time. I experimented with pasting bee pooh on the entrance to see if this encourages the solitary bees to take up the drill block quicker. The block was put out early, but the first long tunnel of the year was occupied in a very short space of time in comparison to shorter tunnels and other solitary bee tunnels.