Saturday, March 23, 2013

Orchard Mason Bees

You’re never too old to learn something new. Today, I learned about Orchard Mason Bees. I’m sure we’re all aware of the dwindling numbers of honey bees and how that’s affecting crop production. Bees are the primary pollinators of the flowers of fruits and vegetables. Without them, the plants can’t bear fruit. I know personally that I’ve had less productive gardens in the past couple of years because of their scarcity.

Last year, I resorted to using a feather to hand pollinate my summer squash, and then only got a few. You have to get out to the garden very early in the morning to hand pollinate them. Like daylilies, they only bloom once a day and it’s for a short period of time in the morning. After that, the blooms fold back up again and begin to wither.

So today, I happened to see an ad for habitat houses for the Orchard Mason Bees. They won’t give you honey, but they will eagerly pollinate your fruit and vegetable bearing plants, as well as your flowers. I learned they are a gentle bee, very tiny, and won’t sting unless absolutely cornered – like getting trapped under your shirt.

The habitat houses look a lot like small bird houses. The difference is that they are frames with dozens of small tubes in them. The bees lay a single egg in a tube, fill it with food, then seal it off with a rough plug of mud. When the larva hatches, it has enough food to reach the pupae stage and it pupates inside the tube. When it turns into a bee, it chews through the mud and flies away, starting the cycle over again.

So, one of my projects will be to build a couple of these little habitat houses and hang them in the trees next to my garden to see if I can encourage these little bees to work for me.

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