Orchard Mason Bees & Nests

Red mason bees - photo by Andre Karwath
Red mason bees – photo by Andre Karwath

There has been a lot of discussion about the phenomenon of colony collapse disorder (CCD) among European honeybee colonies. While the jury is still out on what exactly is causing colonies to collapse, there is another thread being generated to the discussion…and that is the effectiveness of native pollinators, such as bumblebees and solitary bees such as the orchard mason bee, or Osmia lignaria.

To address this, I have been studying the life cycle of the orchard mason bee 1) to see if they exist around the greenhouse and/or my yard in South Minneapolis and 2) to see if I can successfully manage to attract and “cycle” them over the winter. To do this, I needed of course to create some kind of nesting place for them.

Please note: The following orchard mason bee nests I am suggesting are certainly not the only way to build them. There are many ways (and some of them may be significantly easier) to build nesting places. But quite simply, a friend challenged me to see if I could construct orchard mason bee houses out of ordinary household materials. So, I followed the instructions and specifications from Brian Griffin’s book the Orchard Mason Bee and other sources, and used easily accessible materials that cost me less than $10.

The following photos describe the process of building the nesting tubes out of coffee paper. The magic number to remember when constructing orchard mason bee nests is 5/16″. Apparently, the width of the opening is of critical importance.

This year, I plan to build these traps and set them out at various locations around the Twin Cities metro area. If you create nests according to these instructions, please report back with any results. I’d like to know how successful they are, and it will be also very interesting to see how deeply or to what extent orchard mason bees penetrate urban areas.

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