Central Virginia Organic Gardener

"And 'tis my faith that every flower enjoys the air it breathes." - William Wordsworth, 1798

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Native pollinators

Mason Orchard bees

One of my favorite Christmas gifts this last year were these two bee nesting boxes-top photo (thank you Jeannie!). We all have heard of the decline in honeybees, but did you know that honeybees were not native to America and that we have a variety of native bees? Some of our native bees are non-social (or “solitary”), that is, they do not live in large communities or hives. The two nesting boxes (or blocks) are great for these non-social, cavity nesting bees. And these bees are good pollinators for your garden.

A few years ago my brother Ed built me a mason orchard bee (Osmia lignaria) nesting block out of non-treated, but rot-resistant, lumber (the second photo). I actually purchased two tubes of mason orchard bees for them. These bees are excellent pollinators for those early flowering fruit trees, like apples, peaches and pears. It might just be coincidence, but the year I got them I had a bumper crop of peaches and apples. Mason orchard bees like to have tubes of a specific diameter (1/4 to 3/8 inches in diameter). They do their early pollination, then lay eggs in the individual tubes or holes, cover with a plug of mud and are done for the year, often filling multiple tubes. These blue-black bees live for about a month and are generally gentle, rarely stinging. They do have a tendency to move on, but your bee block can be inhabited by new bees year to year. Unlike honeybees, they need no special care.

Happy gardening!


Anita said...

What do the bees do when you come near bhe blocks?

Judy Thomas said...

The bees are either in the block hibernating or are out and about pollinating. They only visit the block to lay an egg and seal it up. Egg-laying lasts a month or 6 weeks. They are not like social bees (e.g. honeybees) who live in a group in a hive. They do not swarm and are not aggressive defenders of their home.