Blue Orchard Mason Bees
Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild

Mason bees returning home

See Copyright notice and note below.

The Orchard Mason bee, Osmia lignaria, (a.k.a. Blue Mason Bee, Blue Orchard Mason bee, Mason bee) is a solitary bee - that is it lives and works alone. It does not produce honey but is a great pollinator. The drawback is that it has a short life span and by June they may all be gone.
As pollinators these bees are much better than honey bees. However, their range and life span are both much less than that of the honey bee. If you have fruit trees these bees may be your solution but are not the bee for a summer garden.

These bees are very different from the honey and bumble bees in that they live and propagate in holes in wood. Each female bee gathers pollen and nectar that is placed in a hole. They then lay an egg on this and build a mud wall to close that part of the hole off. This is repeated till the hole is filled when, after a short gap, a mud wall up to a quarter inch thick is placed to totally seal the hole. The next year the new bees will break down the walls and emerge to repeat the process. They have bee described as "solitary-gegarious" in that live and work along but like to have neighbors who they care little about. For this reason their home is refered to as a nest -- many bees in one place but they do not depend on each other.

Keeping these bees for pollination is as simple as providing them a place to nest - that is, a collection of 6 inch deep holes. Then after the season is over, store the nests for the winter and put them out the next year along with new nests.

On the web you can buy Mason bees ("bees in a can" in one case) and find considerable information on ways to keep these bees in your yard.

Links
These links are provided without direct knowledge of the companies and/or having done any business with a company represented by the web sites.

Crown Bees
Supplier of bees, nests, books and good general information.

Knox Cellars
Supplier of bees, nests, books and information. Brian Griffin founded this company and has one of the books on the bee. Look for the "bees in a can" product.

Ruhl Bee Supply
A supplier in Gladstone Oregon that offers bees and supplies..

Beediverse
A supplier in Canada that will sell bees in the U.S and offers a different nest style. Compare with Knox Cellars on methods of handling the cocoons over the winter.

Osmia.com
Supplies bees (some for California) and nests. Look at the pictures. Uses the "natural" nest using reeds.

Pollinator Paradise
Supplier of the "BinderBoard" nest but site has lots of good information on solitary bees and other bee things with links.

Washington State University
Information on the bee with links. Don't pass up the link to "WSU Extension King Co. Hort Fact Sheet #83 (PDF)" near the bottom.

Bee Biology and Systematics Laboratory
Located at Utah State University you can follow their "mission" link to see why they know a lot about solitary bees. You must look at the link under "How To" on building a nesting block if you don't want to buy one.

Books
There are three books that one should consider before ordering bees. All are available online from several sources. Note that due to the differences in methods of Griffen and Dogterom one would do well to obtain both of these books when starting..

The Orchard Mason Bee
   
by Brian Griffin
This is "the book" from Knox Cellars and tells you most of what you will want to know about the Orchard Mason bee.

Pollination with Mason Bees
   by Dr. Margriet Dogterom
This is "the book" from Beedivese and explains their methods with cocoons. Maybe not as complete as Griffin's book but expands on the subject (sometimes in rather odd wording).

How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee As an Orchard Pollinator: ...
   by Jordi Bosch & William Kemp
Not read as yet so cannot comment on content. However, some reviews point out that it is more for the farmer. If you check it out let us know what you think. The authors are from the Utah bee laboratory.

Mason Bees for the Backyard Gardener
   by Sherian A. Wright
New book (2010) so have not read it so cannot comment on content. Several reviews give it high marks.


Picture Note
This picture of two Mason bees returning home is from the web site pollinator.com. Copyright © 2001, by David L. Green and used by permission.

The yellow color of the bee on the left is pollen that is being carried to the nest.. The Mason bee carries pollen in their scopa (stiff hairs) so it appears to cover the body. Honey bees have "pollen baskets" on their rear legs for transporting pollen, and it is this difference that makes mason bees a better pollinator. As the load of gathered pollen increases in the scopa more is exposed and loosely attached, so it becomes very likely that some will be left behind. In the honey bee most of the gathered pollen is wet and packed in the baskets leaving only smaller amounts on the body for pollination.

 

Santa Clara Valley Beekeepers Guild
October 23, 2010