Thursday, January 6, 2011
Orchard mason bee. Photo courtesy: BC Gov't Agricultural site.
As many people are becoming aware, the winged pollinators of the world are in need of help. These industrious flying insects are so important to our food chain that if they were to die off entirely, mankind would soon follow.
Mason bees. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
Colony Collapse Disorder has become one of the biggest problems of the 21st century. Entire hives of honeybees are dying off for no apparent reason. The extensive use of pesticides is suspected as one of the major causes; but, has not yet been proven to be the entire or main problem. Meanwhile, winged pollinators are still on the decline.
Short of taking up bee raising in the back yard or on the balcony, what can the average citizen do to help the failing bee population? Raise mason bees instead.
Mason bees are a solitary species of bee that are gregarious. This means they like to hang out together; but, they don't cooperate in any way. One mason bee choosing a nesting tube (in the nest you put out) will attract others to select your site, too.
The docile and gentle nature of the mason bee makes them an ideal study for families with children.
Native throughout continental USA and southern Canada, Blue Orchard Mason bees are super-efficient, hard-working spring crop pollinators. A single female mason bee will visit nearly 2,000 blossoms a day. A smaller orchard or planted area can be adequately pollinated by 40-50 bees. Ten mason bees will pollinate thousands of blossoms.
The mason bee is smaller than the honeybee with a metallic blue body and two pairs of wings. The males have longer antennae than the females and have white tufts of hair on their foreheads. Females are larger and have specialized hairs on the underside for carrying pollen. Mason bees have the ability to fly in our weather conditions and at lower temperatures than other bees. They are relatively easy to stage and care for.
A homemade Mason bee dwelling. Holes have been drilled into the block; and, the block is fully occupied. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia
Setting up nesting sites for these beneficial insects is fascinating, fun and good for our local environment. Creating a haven for mason bees at home is a wonderful educational opportunity for children of all ages. Kids can get up close and personal with the bees during their flying season and during their winter hibernation, when their nests are dismantled and their cocoons are cared for. Learning about their life cycles is a great first step in understanding garden ecology.
The wonderful thing about mason bees is that they don't sting. They are the most harmless bee you will ever encounter. They can sting like any other bee - but it has never been heard of happening. If you block the nest with your hand, they will stay away until you move your hand away. Don't try this with Yellow Jackets.
Mason bees do not produce honey or beeswax; so, they have no need of big nests. A small nest with 10 straws (room for 10 females) will adequately pollinate a well-planted balcony and surrounding areas.