The Mason Bee: A Native Pollinator

“Mankind will not survive the honeybees’ disappearance for more than five years.”                          – Albert Einstein

Although the quote cannot be confirmed as one given by Albert Einstein, the reality is that beekeepers have seen a rapid die off of their honeybee, Apis mellifera, populations since 2006. Harsh winters in the Midwestern states and northern Plains, severe drought in California, increased use of insecticides like neonicotinoids, shrinking habitats, cell phone towers, the Varroa mites, the growing of a single cash crop (weakens their immune system), and feeding high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) to industrialized US bee farms instead of honey during the winter months have all contributed to the disappearance of nearly a third of all U.S. bee colonies. At stake, the pollination of about 130 fruits and vegetables or an estimated 80% of all food crops in the United States.  So have we learned anything from taking some of these shortcuts? I came across this amusing quote if we haven’t learned:

“Been there – done that. Then, been there several more times, because apparently I never learn.”



Corrections are underway, as states such as Maine, Vermont, California and New Jersey are reevaluating the use of neonicotinoids. Eugene, Oregon is the first community in the nation to ban the use of insecticides, and encouraging plant diversity will also improve bee health and bee habitats as well. Another possible solution for helping to pollinate our fruits and vegetables is training amateur beekeepers to raise our native pollinators like the mason bee.

Mason bees belong to the genus Osmia which have a 140 species in North America. The blue orchard bee or Osmia lignaria is very good at pollinating fruit trees like apples, peaches, pears, and plums. They are especially important to the orchards of Adams County, PA. The county ranks fourth in the nation for apple production according to Wikipedia. Osmia ribifloris, the blueberry bee is responsible for pollinating its namesake, the blueberry bush.

The orchard mason bee, O. lignaria, emerges from hollow reeds when the fruit trees bloom and daytime temperatures remain around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The males appear first as they wait at the nest site to mate with emerging females. The males die off soon after mating and the females will live typically from mid-March to early June. The females will begin by looking for an appropriate nest site. If you are setting out a nesting box, then South-facing house, garden shed or garage walls are best. You can even drill multiple holes using a 5/16 inch bit into a dead tree to serve as a nesting site. Once a nest site is found, the female will gather nectar and pollen and place it in the nesting tube. She will then lay one egg with the nectar/pollen provision and seal off the chamber with mud. She will continue the process until the entire tube is filled in this manner. She will lay female eggs at the back of the tube with male eggs at the front. Once the tube is filled, she will seal off the entrance with mud and then look for another nesting site. The larva will consume all of the provisions by summer and then enter the pupal stage by spinning a cocoon. By winter, it will undergo metamorphosis and remain in the cocoon as an adult until mid-March to start the next generation.

As suggested in the previous post, Paul and Elizabeth Kaiser of Singing Frogs Farm surround their vegetable gardens with perennial borders to support bees and other inhabitants to create a rich ecological niche. Let’s all do our part by learning about and creating a sustainable environment for our native and imported bee pollinators.

Click here to review post references.

For a list of neonicotinoid brand names, click here.

Click here for a list of plants to grow in your bee garden.

Click here learn about 10 Expert Beekeeping Tips for Families.

Click here to view Paul Kaiser discuss the topic of “Farming for Pollinators”.

Click here to purchase a Bamboo Mason Bee Hive House from Amazon.

“Mapping The Scarily Sudden Disapperance Of Bees Across America” Click here.

For my next post, we will look at a preventable disease known as heart attacks.

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