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The orchard mason bee is usually slightly smaller than a honey bee and shiny dark blue to black in color.
The female bee uses existing holes in wood for a nest, such as those found in nature, formed by wood boring beetles. She chooses holes slightly larger than her body, usually around 5/16" in diameter. The bee first places a mud plug at the bottom of the hole, then brings in 20 loads pollen which she collects from the flowers in your garden. If you watch the bee closely as she enters the nest, you can see the pollen on the underside of her abdomen.
Once she has provided a supply of food for the larva, she deposits an egg, then seals the cell with a thin mud plug. She then provisions the next cell, and continues in this manner until the hole is almost full. At last the bee plasters a thick mud plug at the entrance.
She lives for about a month and can produce one or two young every day. The larva hatches from the egg after a several days and begins to eat. After the food has been eaten, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates within the cell.
Near the end of the summer or early fall the bee transforms but remains in the cocoon as an adult throughout the winter. In spring, the males begin to emerge by chewing their way out. The females, which are almost always in the deeper cells of the tunnel, emerge several days to 2 weeks later.
Mating begins soon after emergence, then the female begins to nest in 2 to 5 days.
The orchard mason bee is non-aggressive and will sting only if handled or trapped under clothing. They are less objectionable than the honey bee as a pollinator in urban settings and can be encouraged by making available a wide variety of native plants and nests.
This mason bee nest mimics the ideal natural nesting conditions for the mason bee. It should be placed in March before the bees begin nesting and removed in the summer when nesting is completed. Simply hang it on a wall or in your orchard, preferably facing East or South, in a sunny spot where the box will be sheltered. An ideal location is on a wall or tree that will receive morning sunlight.
Complete with woodbured bee illustration on the top of the nest box, this recycled wood nesting box makes a nice gift for a gardener or nature lover.
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Andrew and Melissa