This year I made the plunge into home beekeeping with some blue orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria and other Osmia species). These solitary bees are extremely docile, so they’re perfect for a beginner like me, anyone with an interest in native pollinators, or anyone who wants to improve early-blooming fruit and/or nut yields.
My bee box, made from commercially-available wooden blocks that come apart for easy cleaning, with netting to prevent birds from eating any larvae. Mason bees are not picky about materials for nesting tubes – they will use wood, reeds or hollow stems, glass, and even corrugated cardboard, as long as the dimensions are ~3/8” (1 cm) wide by ~6” (18 cm) long.
Unlike European honey bees (Apis mellifera), these bees only need a small protected place to nest and mud, making them a better option where space is limited, and very affordable (even free), especially if you attract wild bees.
Mason bees spend most stages of their lives (eggs, larvae, and pupae) in their home; only the adults venture out into the world. Each adult female is a queen, and she will try to find the best spot to lay eggs. She will look for long, narrow crevices or tunnels in sheltered locations, pack them with a food supply of nectar and pollen, lay a single egg, and then seal it in with mud. She will continue gathering food, laying eggs, and sealing them in until the entire tube is filled.
The mason bee life cycle inside a nesting tube. From left to right: Eggs are laid in late spring with a food supply; larvae hatch in summer and eat the stored food; in fall, they spin cocoons to overwinter; the following spring, adults emerge, males first, who fertilize the females when they emerge a few days later and the cycle can begin again.
Whether you’ve bought mason bees, rented them, or attracted wild ones, providing an ideal nesting site is the key to a thriving population of these native pollinators!
- Written by Alyssa Branca
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