When we think of pollinators, often the first thing that comes to mind is the honeybee. Honeybees do their share, but behind the scenes there are a variety of other native bees handling the majority of pollination services, which receive little recognition. Today we are focusing on our native orchard and mason bees. See our bee houses project for orchard and mason bees from last year.
These orchard and mason bees go about their day gathering nectar from a surprising number of flowers and bringing it back to their nest to provide food for their soon-to-be offspring. While they are visiting flowers, pollen from the flower sticks to the bees body hairs; then, when they visit another flower of the same variety, with the attached pollen, pollination occurs. A female mason bee will lay 5-6 eggs in 5-6 different chambers (6” long nesting tube), according to the US Dept. of Agriculture. Up to 75 separate flower visits may be needed, per foraging trip, and up to 15-40 foraging trips may be required to provide enough of a provision of nectar and pollen for a single chamber.
So, lets do the math...how many flowers could a female mason bee need to visit to fill 6 chambers with the necessary pollen in a nesting tube:
75 (separate flower visits/foraging trip) x 27 (foraging trips/single chamber) x 6 (chambers) = 12,150
That is potentially 12,150 flower visits per season for that single bee to raise her young! If that’s not pollination at its finest I don’t know what is!
These amazing little creatures do not create colonies like the honeybee, rather they are solitary but gregarious (they construct nests near one another). Being gregarious is what makes building nesting boxes a viable idea for your garden pollination needs. While it is important to provide nesting habitat for the bees, it is equally important to provide an array of flowering plants that bloom throughout the growing season. A list of native flowering plants can be found on the Xerces Society website. Finally, it should be noted that these bees rarely sting; they are typically very docile and mellow – so don’t worry about inviting more bee stings into your yard.
Take a look at the simple design we came up with for constructing your own Mason & Orchard Bee House and start helping your pollinator friends today!