Orchard mason bees, also known as blue orchard bees, are prodigious pollinators, native to the Pacific Northwest. Smaller than honey bees, mason bees are solitary bees that don’t generate honey. Having no large stores to defend, they rarely sting. They nest in cracks in wood and other small spaces, and create individual spaces for each bee larva, separated by mud (hence “mason”).
They are dark-colored (hence “blue”) and with a foraging radius of about 300 feet diameter from the nest, they work very well in contained gardens and orchards (hence “orchard”).
Mason bees are under extreme duress just like honey bees, also suffering from loss of habitat, pesticides, new diseases and pests and other stressors. People like Missy Anderson are working to build populations of mason bees in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.
Keeping mason bees can involve a bunch of work: they don’t require inspections like honey bees, and overall are less labor-intensive: but the cocoons do need to be checked for disease and cleaned, refrigerated overwinter (the bees won’t emerge if the temperature isn’t right, and this guarantees they won’t come out on a warm day in December), and situated properly in the spring.
You want some mason bees for your garden and don’t want to deal with the maintenance (and a bunch of extra stuff in your fridge all winter)? Missy makes it easy: rent the bees! You can rent them direct from her; all you have to do is pick them up, hang the nest of bees, and bring them back at the end of the season. We can also do it for you (costs more than going direct to Missy).
The bees are in the big tube (shown on top). In the spring, the box of nesting spaces (empty paper straws or a block of wood with empty spaces, both shown) is nailed to the house or hung on a tree (something that won’t shift) and the big tube is placed inside. The bees emerge, mate, and then the queens lay eggs in the nesting spaces (one queen per space), sealing each egg with mud and a little pollen. The eggs pupate and become cocoons, staying that way all winter until spring comes around again.