ORCHARD MASON BEES
August 15, 2008
image: Blue_orchard_bee.jpg (GNU) Robert Engelhardt
Early this spring, I took a 4x4 block of wood I had sitting around and drilled some holes into it and sent it off to a co-worker's house to get loaded up with bees. Not honeybees, mind you - orchard mason bees. To be more accurate, the block of wood was loaded up with orchard mason bee eggs, since the bees themselves made nests out of the block of wood.
Orchard mason bees are unlike honeybees; they don't have a hive mentality -- they're solitary bees that simply live to collect pollen and lay eggs. And that's pretty much it. They don't live very long, either:
An O. lignaria female lives for about four to eight weeks and she can complete an average of four 6-inch tubes in her lifetime, with about eight eggs per tube.
From this handy article from WSU, we read that the orchard mason bee is not aggressive:
The orchard mason bee is non-aggressive and will sting only if handled roughly or if it should get trapped under clothing.
Again - they don't form a hive, and have no need for a territorial defense mechanism. They're a bit like spiders in that way; spiders can bite, but they generally only do it when they're being bothered.
Anyhow, here are a couple of pictures of my nesting block:
There are 11 plugs, and since the plugs themselves are only about 3 inches long, there's probably about 3 eggs per plug... so in early spring next year, I should have about 33 orchard mason bees buzzing around my cherry tree, happily doing their little bee thing and prepping my tree for a delicious harvest. And the bees will stick around, too - they prefer flowers that are near their nest, since they have to fly back and forth all day long.
Next year, I might build some nests with some straw-inserts, which will allow me to have some control over the timing of the bees' life cycle. You can read about cultivation methods here.