Ever hear of orchard bees? They're sometimes referred to as Mason; Alfalfa or Blue bees. These are wild bees that you don't have to purchase, they are already here. All you need to do is build a simple hive, to attract them to your garden. It's so easy, that anyone can do it!
What's so amazing about this small bee is that it is much better at pollinating than the regular honeybee. Although it is capable of stinging, it has to be really provoked, and then its sting is only similar to that of a Mosquito's bite..
Since they are already present in the Northwest (and many other areas), all one has to do is build a simple hive out of 2 X 4's or 4 X 4's, to attract the bees. Simply make the hive about 4 inches wide and any height. The ones I saw at John Parker's at Port Ludlow were about ten inches high. Parker suggests that you drill holes into the wood using a 5/16" bit. Make the holes about one inch apart. Be certain to use a 5/16" bit, because a 1/4" hole is too small and a 3/8" hole is too large. You can drill the holes all the way through the 4 X 4", then cover the back side with a piece of shiplap. Or, simply drill 3 1/4" deep so that the backside is not open (sealed). Parker said to use non-treated wood and if possible older (scrap) weathered wood. He also advised not to use cedar because of the oils and aroma.
Mr. Parker has his hives nailed against the west side of the house, under the eaves. He said, he has tried other locations around the house, but he gets the best results on that side. However, he is quick to point out that others find the east side better in their gardens. So you may have to experiment a little to find the best place in your yard.
The hive's are put out into the garden during the winter and are left there all winter. Put the hives up unde the eaves of the house or out-building, facing south or west if possible. Try to avoid facing the hive north, as it is too shady and cool.
The life span of this insect is only about an average of six weeks. Parker says, these bees usually hatch out at about the same time that most fruit trees are in flower. They are smaller than honeybees, so they can go deeper into the blossom and consequently do a better job of pollination. In fact, it is estimated that they are about 17 times more successful in pollination than honeybees.
Another benefit is that they work at lower temperatures than most bees. If we experience a warm spell of weather in January, the bees are apt to become active. Since this is too early for them to be effective as pollinators, Parker suggests that the hive be taken down, and put in the bottom of the refrigerator until the trees are in bloom, at which time the hive can be put back onto the side of the house.
These bees do not make honey, have no queen and do not require a hive body. In other words, the 2 X 4" or 4 X 4" homemade hive is all they need.
The bees make approximately seven layers of eggs in each of the holes. Then they seal them with a gray matter that looks a lot like a masonry substance, hence the name 'Mason Bees'. When it is time to emerge from the holes, the baby bees simply make a small hole in the covering and leave. At the end of their six week cycle they lay new layers of eggs and the cycle is repeated for another year.
The same hive can be used year after year. Parker recommends that the holes in the hives not be disturbed. The bees will use them again for making their seven layers of eggs.
If the fruit blossoms on your trees or berries are not being pollinated the way you think they should be, consider building a hive to attract orchard bees.
See Also: Mason Bee Update