Almost anyone who does any gardening has heard about the plight of the honeybee. Many of us sit with baited breath waiting to hear if they are going to make it or not and fearing that if they don’t we’ll not have anything to eat, because there won’t be any pollinators left.
Quite by accident I found information on other bees, in particular mason bees (Osmia), that do even more work for pollination than honeybees. Almost no-one knows anything about them, because, alas, they don’t produce honey, they just help produce much of all our other produce, especially early spring fruiting plants.
I even watched a special where one of the bee drivers; these are folks who drive huge trucks filled with honeybee hives around the USA helping to pollinate the vast fields of fruit and nut trees; spoke on how without the honeybee we won’t have most of our fruits and nuts and many of our vegetables.
After reading about the mason bee I realized that he was dead wrong. Mason bees are much more efficient pollinators, but they don’t like to be bused around, so the bee driver can’t take them all over the USA. They can pollinate 2000 more flowers in the same amount of time than a honeybee. The common name of one species is Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria), because it is so well know for its ability to vastly increase the production in orchards. The horned mason bee (Osmia cornifrons) can pollinate 15 flowers in one minute.
As a matter of fact there are over 4000 species of bees in the US. Of the Osmia genus there are 300 species across the Northern Hemisphere and 150 indigenous to the US. That’s a lot of different bees.
Also, these bees don’t look like a honeybee. They usually have a green or blue metallic back, sometimes black, not striped. So, it pays to get to know all the insects in your garden, as you may be killing the very insects that are pollinating your crops. Some of them are smaller than honeybees, etc. They are very docile creatures, too, so they aren’t easily angered to sting you. They will only sting if they are being crushed and fear imminent death.
There are ways that you can help to cultivate a larger presence of the mason bees in your garden. They lay their eggs in tubes. It can be hollow grasses, straws, holes in wood, etc. There are very easy ways to build houses for them. I’ll collect some good sites on that and put that in my next blog, so that you can start increasing the number of pollinators in your garden.
Have you built a mason bee home? Did you see an increase in your plant production once you put it out? Any interesting stories about mason bees? Please share.