While I adore my honeybees, I also revere the amazing and often-times overlooked native pollinator, the Mason Orchard Bee (Osmia lignaria). Where the honeybee is a finely-tuned pollinating powerhouse with corporate efficiency, native pollinators tend to be the small-business counterpart, a mom-and-pop pollination operation, so to speak. The Mason Orchard Bee is self-employed jack of all trades while the honey bee is a specialist on the clock. Orchard bees are industrious little flyers who very rarely sting, and hit just about anything in bloom, and they do it early and often, and even in cold spring weather (unlike the honeybee).
To encourage these native pollinators, I make bee houses out of recycled materials, specifically aluminum cans and old bamboo sticks or hollow reeds. It costs me nothing to make, but makes a world of difference for early spring fruit tree pollination. According to Knox Cellars, “Studies done in netted orchards show that 250 female orchard mason bees can pollinate apples as effectively as 50,000 honey bees.”
How to Make an Orchard Mason Bee house
If you build it, they will come…and stay.
- Clean out and dry an empty aluminum can.
- I love Bush’s Baked Bean cans; the contents are delicious, and the can’s interior is coated with a nonreactive finish, but really any can will do.
- Turn it over so the bottom lid is on the top, and puncture it with a nail about an inch or two from the perimeter.
- Turn it over again, and place a small wood screw from the inside of the can through the hole with a few half turns.
- Cut hollow Bamboo sticks or reeds to a length about an inch shorter than the can.
- Bamboo and reed holes should be between 3/8″ to 5/16″
- Fit sticks into the can and remove sticks once the number of sticks is determined
- Find a protected place or covered area to secure the bee house
- under eaves is perfect
- opposite direction of prevailing wind and weather will also work
- Tap a starter hole for the screw
- Screw the can to the post or wall.
- a gentle slope wicking water away from the opening is always good
- Place the hollow sticks and/or reeds into the can.
- Fill until sticks are tightly bound in the can and not moving or rattling about
Since Orchard Mason Bees are only active a short time during spring and early summer, you may not see any capped egg cells in the tubes until the following year.
What an Orchard Mason Bee Looks Like
- Knox Cellars: About the Orchard Mason Bee
- Washington State University: Fact and Info Sheet on Orchard Mason Bees
- Video: Growing a Greener World – Solitary Bees (Great video and tutorial!)