Pollination in your garden is mandatory if you want great flowers and good vegetable yields, and most of us don’t think much about how this process happens. Pollen can be spread by birds going from flower to flower to feed as in the case of hummingbirds, by wind or by insects such as bees.
There’s been quite a bit of attention paid to bees in particular lately because of the effects chemicals and pesticides are having on the bee population. And while the thought of bees in your garden might bring back unpleasant memories of being stung as a child, that doesn’t have to be the case. Blue Mason Bees, or Orchard Mason Bees are extremely beneficial and great to have as garden friends.
The Blue Mason Bee works in your garden just like any other bee in the way they pollinate going from flower to flower to feed. In fact, if you have a small garden or lot, these are the ideal garden helpers for you. They are about the same size as a honeybee, but there are a couple of distinguishing characteristics that will help you tell them apart. First, they are a dark, metallic blue (hence the name Blue Mason Bee), not the striped brown and orange like honeybees. They can often be mistaken for flies because they are small and have that metallic sheen. Although they are found across North America, they are most commonly found in the Pacific Northwest.
Non-aggressive and completely safe to have around pets and kids, they really are quite wonderful to have around. They don’t live in hives, they don’t make honey, and they won’t attack. Even though they do have a stinger, it won’t be used unless threatened, so you and your children are very safe in observing them as they work in your garden.
They are solitary and each has its own brood rather than the more typical structure of having a queen and worker bees. They do like the company of others however, and build nests next to one another in a compound like situation. When they build their nests they seal each egg chamber with a tiny brick of mud that divides it from other chambers, hence the name “mason.”
Blue Mason Bee season begins in early spring to coincide with the blossoming of your fruit trees. As a pollinator, they are especially beneficial to stone fruits like cherries, peaches and plums but also like apples and commercial fruit growers and those with orchards love having them around. The female will collect the pollen and nectar, bring it back to their nests and knead it into a ball. Once the food supply is large enough, they lay an egg on top of it, then seal off that chamber cell. Then she builds a mud wall and starts gathering food for the next chamber. This goes on until there are five to eight cells in each tube, then the entrance is sealed. These eggs grow but won’t emerge as adults until the next spring season.
Interestingly enough, those cells in the back of the chamber develop into the female bees, while the ones near the entrance are the males. The theory is that males need to emerge first to wait for the females during mating season the following spring, and since the females are more valuable for perpetuation of the species, they are the more protected eggs towards the back of the chamber.
We have Mason Bees for sale this year at Four Seasons, along with their houses and a small book if you want to know more or you have a young gardener that you might like to share them with. These bees do important work in guaranteeing your gardening success, so we hope you will give them a try. Along with ladybugs and praying mantids which are a natural way to control pests in your garden, these bees are a natural way to safely pollinate your way to gardening happiness!