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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.

4 thoughts on “Orchard Mason Bees & Nests

  1. It is important to take the finished orchard mason bee nest and attach it to a sunny (southwest or southeast) corner. It would help greatly if the nest was protected from rain and wind and other elements, and kept from swinging too much. The string is intended to help wrap around the nest to hold it in place on a branch or a fencepost or a railing or …? The string is NOT meant to simply tie to a branch or something so the nest will dangle. The more steady the nest is held to a surface, the better.

  2. Pingback: Native Bee Nests Distributed at Environmental Quality Fair « Green Noise

  3. Last week I had finished planting 250 native flowers and shrubs at my home in bloomington, mn, and just set out my mason bee boxes today. I feel that I’ve put them out quite late in the game, but we’ll see how succesful I am with getting cocoons. I made 2 square routered bee boxes with 11 1/2 in depth, resulting in I think 80 tubes.

    My question for you is: Do you know where present orchard bee nests are located in the TC area? I’d like to try to get some cocoons from local bees instead of ordering them.

    Thanks! darick04@hotmail.com

    • Dave, As of May 2012, I don’t know who in the Twin Cities is attracting them or successfully rearing “native” orchard mason bees – or any species of Osmia for that matter. You might try asking some of the local orchardists if they are using them. If not, I would continue to press forward with your plant-heavy plan for attracting them. I understand the desire to avoid purchasing out of state orchard mason bees, but if native orchard mason bees are as uncommon or “patchy” populationwise as I suspect in developed areas, you may find that it takes more time to attract them and build the colony to the level you want. Also, do not discount the many dozens of smaller native bees that will likely be visiting your plants; they too have their roles to play in the theater of pollination. – Neil

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