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Want to be a beekeeper but don’t have the time or money? Afraid of being stung? Pesky neighbors? No worries. In less than an hour, you can create a home for mason bees and invite them to your garden.

Members of the family megachilidae, some species of orders megachile and osmia are also known by their common names:

  • alfalfa leafcutter bee (Megachile rotundata)
  • orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria)
  • blueberry bee (Osmia ribifloris)
  • hornfaced bee (Osmia cornifrons)
Unlike the honeybee, mason bees do not produce or store honey and have no hive, queen or brood to defend from predators or other colonies. They are a solitary bee that will only sting when directly threatened. Mason bees are efficient pollinators, encouraged in fruit and almond orchards.

After remaining dormant over the winter, males are the first to emerge from their cocoon in the spring and live only a short time in order to mate with females. Females emerge later and after mating will gather and store pollen in tree or rock cavities. Females can sometimes be observed storing pollen inside the gaps between storm window frames or gaps in brick walls.

After gathering enough pollen for a single larva, females lay an egg and seal the cavity with leaves or mud. Throughout the summer, females repeat this process, filling crevices with individual cells for larvae. Female eggs are placed deeper than the male eggs, so that males can emerge first in the spring. Over the summer larvae hatch within their cells, eat pollen and pupate into adults. They will hibernate over the winter to emerge in spring.

To simulate the natural openings where females nest, drill a square or triangular array of holes in a wood block approximately 1/4-3/8” in diameter and 6” deep, spaced approximately 3/4 -1” apart . Provide a range of diameters. Optionally, charring the face of the block with a blowtorch will further encourage mason bees to nest. Mount your mason bee block in a place sheltered from rain near a garden, and wait for your guests to arrive.

See also:

  • http://www.ars.usda.gov/Main/docs.htm?docid=10743 – USDA guide to making solitary bee nesting blocks
  • http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Other/note109/note109.html - how to raise and manage orchard mason bees for the home garden
  • http://snohomish.wsu.edu/mg/ombblock/ombblock.htm - modular housing for orchard mason bees, by Randy Person
  • http://www.pollinatorparadise.com/Solitary_Bees/SOLITARY.HTM - Solitary Bees: An Addition to Honey Bees

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