Creating a Home for Orchard Mason Bees
This week the weather reports show that our snow is gone and warmer March days are near! A week of temperatures in the 50s and some of the flowers in our yard beginning to bloom means it's the perfect time to set out our Orchard Mason Bee cocoons. Orchard Mason Bees are native throughout our area and much of the United States. They are a solitary bee that will nest in wood cavities such as woodpecker holes or sometimes nail holes in your home's wood siding. They are fantastic pollinators to have in your garden and are known to be non-aggressive. If you would like to add Orchard Mason Bees to your garden setting, you can set up an empty bee home to encourage native Mason Bees to take up residence on your property or you can purchase cocoons from a local supplier.
Orchard Mason Bee homes do best when they are facing east to receive the morning sun. The bees will benefit from a roof overhang on their home to keep out the rain and wind. Chicken wire can also be added to the front entrance to discourage birds or squirrels from disturbing the nesting site -- I will be adding some to the front of this nest today!
Orchard Mason Bees build their nests in holes that are a bit bigger than their bodies, usually 1/4" to 3/8" in diameter. You can drill holes of this size in a block of wood at a depth of 3 to 6 inches to create a homey place for your bees to nest. For the purpose of cleaning out the nests and cocoons, it is recommend that you line the holes with removable paper straws. As an alternative, you can purchase a bundle of cardboard and paper straws from area shops such as a garden center or online. At the end of the season, you will see that the females have laid eggs in the straw tubes and mudded them over.
Your bees will help pollinate many different trees and shrubs in your garden. We place our bees near our blueberry bushes to help assist in pollinating those. However, our garden also has apples, pears and a cherry tree, so the bees will be busy pollinating those as well. They will be actively working throughout your garden collecting pollen and nesting in the home you provided throughout the spring and into June. After this point, the adults that had emerged in early spring are finished with their work for the season.
To ensure that a larger portion of your Orchard Mason Bee cocoons thrive through the dormant season, it is encouraged that you clean the nests and cocoons and refrigerate the cocoons for the winter months. For detailed directions in how to do this, you can visit the site Fern and Rosemary The owners of Fern and Rosemary, Gary and Billie Bevers, are who we purchased our Orchard Mason Bees from last year. Their website is quite helpful in knowing how to best care for your bees throughout the year. If you live in SW Washington, you can also purchase your bee cocoons from them. If you live outside of this area, call your local nurseries. Many offer Orchard Mason Bee cocoons for purchase, and you can choose to purchase a nest as well or make your own.
Adding a home for Orchard Mason Bees to your garden is a simple way to encourage these industrious bees to come and work for you and your flowers. I don't think you will be disappointed!