Orchard Mason Bees
The Orchard Mason is a small, black and gentle bee slightly smaller than a honey bee, which was brought to the North American continent by pilgrims. You have surely seen them on your flowers, shrubs and fruit trees in the early spring, probably mistaking them for a shiny black fly of some kind. They appear about the first of April, and having completed their part of the life cycle by mid June, the adults all die.
The Orchard Mason bee is not a hive dweller like the honey bee or the hornets. They are individual egg layers and they do not provide care for their young. This non social life style probably accounts for their non aggressive nature. They are capable of stinging but the sting is likened to a mosquito bite. They will only sting if they are pinched or caught under clothing and roughly handled. They have no protective instincts around the nesting hole.
Early in the spring, when the weather reaches 50º F., the male bee digs through the mud wall of his nesting chamber and emerges. Behind him come the other males, males are laid last so they can be first out - or be eaten first by predators penetrating the entrance. After a couple of days the females stir and dig through their cell walls. They are greeted by the amorous males and mating occurs promptly.
The rest of the Orchard Mason's life is just hard work. Both male and female immediately begin the gathering of pollen from the early spring blossoms. The pollen is brought to a hole of the proper size which the bees located. These bees do not dig holes themselves. They must find a proper hole prepared for them by others. In cities they frequently nest in wood shingle roofs. The space between shingles is often just right for them.
When the proper amount of food is gathered and placed in the back of the hole, the female backs in and deposits an egg in the food. Then the chamber is completed with a plug of dirt masonry collected piece by piece by the hard working bees. The process is repeated again and again until the entire hole is filled with nesting chambers. Finally an extra thick masonry plug is constructed at the hole opening, and the bees fly off looking for another hole. This frantic gathering, egg laying, masonry work goes on until early June when the adults all die. Presumably from sheer exhaustion.
Inside the egg chamber life goes on. The egg hatches into a larvae. The larvae eats the food, spins a cocoon, and within that cocoon transforms into a pupae. The wonders of metamorphosis continue during the Summer as the pupae slowly changes into a compete adult. There, in the protective cocoon, within the sealed wood and mud chamber the bee will hibernate through the long winter. When the weather warms and the buds break in the spring, the bees awake to start the cycle again. The bees are easy to cultivate once you have a native population. You need only hang additional bee blocks along side your pollinator. The bees will gather pollen and lay eggs and fill the nesting holes until they simply drop dead. We have found that we get an increase of 7 to 1. That is seven filled nesting holes for every 1 nesting hole we started with at the beginning of the season. You can easily make your own nesting blocks by drilling 1/4 inch holes in unpainted, untreated fir or pine blocks. If you prefer to use our blocks, we have them available in various sizes and moderate prices.
We hope you will share our enthusiasm for these hard working gentle natives.