The collapse of honeybee populations is devastating, as practically every fruit and vegetable we eat relies on bees to pollinate the flowers. No pollination means no delicious edibles. But don’t despair.
Solitary bees, especially mason bees (Osmia lignaria), are buzzing to the rescue. Resembling metallic blue flies, these small native bees are easy to attract, work tirelessly even in cool weather and rarely sting. Best of all, they are highly efficient spring pollinators — it’s estimated a single mason bee may visit approximately 2,000 blossoms a day.
To keep mason bees in your garden, install purchased or handmade bee houses in early spring in a protected spot that gets morning sun. Female bees lay their eggs in pre-existing (often tubular) holes, carefully setting each egg atop a pile of pollen and nectar and sealing the compartment with mud. (Give them a hand by providing a muddy patch close by.)
Hatching in late spring, the larvae devour the pollen and then pupate in cocoons. The adult bees overwinter in the cocoons, emerging in early spring to mate and pollinate. You can buy cocoons with dormant bees inside from November to February to place in your mason bee house, or simply put up your bee condo to draw local renters and let them start the process.
When the bees emerge, it is crucial to have flowers available. They will visit and pollinate any flower, but when they emerge they are often seen visiting cane fruit, strawberries, blueberries and even dandelions.
To keep your bee population healthy, clean the houses in late fall/early winter. Remove the cocoons, wash to control pollen mites and store in a metal container in the garage to keep rodents at bay. Return the cocoons to the compartments when the houses go back out in early spring. Your housekeeping efforts will be richly rewarded with bumper crops.