Unlike so many condos for people, I am hoping my just completed condo project for orchard mason bees will soon be abuzz with activity. I’ve been meaning to build one of these since I read an article in Fine Gardening about raising raspberries and the importance of orchard mason bees as pollinators.
Last fall, we had an article in Northern Gardener on the honeybee crisis. Honeybees, which are responsible for much of the pollination of commercial crops such as almonds, have been dying off in large numbers. Marla Spivak of the U of M is a bee expert, and she believes several factors may be causing the die-off, including mites or diseases and changes in habitat, such as prairies becoming residential areas and large monoculture crops (corn). If you are interested in honeybees or just want to see pictures of people with bee-beards, please check out the U’s great Bee Lab web site.
Well, no matter what the situation with honeybees, gardeners need bees of all types for pollination. Orchard mason bees are perfect bee neighbors. They are not social bees–each little bee wants her own condo. They are very gentle and pollinate like crazy. To build the house, you need a 4-by-4 block of wood of any length (mine is about a foot) with an angle cut on one edge. You also need a spare piece of wood or a cedar shingle for the roof, and another piece of wood to mount the house on. If you are lucky and have a friend with lots of spare lumber and a rotating arm power saw, the job is a snap. (Thanks, Steve!)
Once you have the wood, you drill holes 5/16th of an inch in diameter about 3 inches into the wood. Drill as many holes as you want, but there should be about 3/4 of an inch center to center between the holes. I got 28 on my block. Then, attach the roof to the block, and the block to the mounting piece and you are ready to hang your bee house. The bees like it facing south, so I mounted mine on one of the posts of my pergola. The bees use the holes in the house for nesting. They love pollen from apples and raspberries and I have both very close to the bee house. With any luck, the bees will help produce a good crop of raspberries, apples, veggies, flowers, and more bees this summer.