These are my bee hives - no kidding these are the hives of my orchard bees and they're right by my back door. These industrious little guys are peaceful and quiet, they don't make honey they're strictly pollinators and don't sting unless extremely provoked. In fact, in the eight years that the hives have been there no one has ever been stung.
Orchard bees aka mason bees don't make hives or holes in things on their own but take advantage of holes that they find to make their home. All you have to do is provide a suitable home and they will do the rest and say thank you by pollinating your trees and flowers. I don't fuss with them - I don't clean the holes out, the bees do that themselves. I do provide new blocks of wood or logs with new holes using a 5/16 drill bit and they fill them up with new baby bees for next year. Once the holes are sealed by the bees with mud and a little moss decoration I give the block to neighbors to take home to start their own bee colony.
The orchard bee actually looks a lot like a fly so you have probably seen them and didn't realize what they were. If you look closely you can see a bee decorating her hole with moss in this picture.
Here's the scientific stuff:
Mason Bees, active in the early Spring, are well adapted to fly under poorer weather conditions than most other bees. They will forage under overcast skies at temperatures as low as 54 degrees Fahrenheit. In good weather they also start the day early and end late, making them very efficient pollinators.
Mason Bees are native to almost the entire continental USA and Southern Canada. Their natural habitat is hollow cavities found in fissured tree bark, holes made by tree-eating grubs, woodpecker holes, beetle holes or any naturally occurring hole of the right size.
Very efficient pollinators, Blue Orchard Mason Bees work directly upon the reproductive structures of the blossoms, collecting nectar and pollen simultaneously. The female Mason bee takes nectar with her tongue while vigorously shaking the anthers with her bottom, rear and middle legs to collect the pollen.
It takes about 75 flower visits to gather a full load, and an average of 25 loads for an average pollen wad. The female Orchard bee completes about one cell a day, so that means she visits about 1875 blossoms a day! She goes into the nesting cell in the bee house head first to regurgitate the nectar then backs out, turns around and backs in to deposit the pollen. The last load for the cell is nectar only, to which she attaches the egg. The egg hatches in about a week. There are 5 larval stages and it is the second stage that starts using the pollen wad for food. The developing larva will cocoon in the 5th stage and pupate in late summer. It then takes about a month to metamorphose to an adult bee, which will then go dormant until the following spring.
You can purchase bees and bee houses from several places on the web, I attracted mine just by providing housing. Give it a try or purchase a starter and have bees buzzing on your property, early spring is the time to do it.
Until next time,