ASK FLORA – Mason Bees
Newsletter - January, 2014
by Sage & Snow Garden Club
January 5, 2014
Dear Flora: Why are bees important?
Signed: Bee Wise
Dear BW: One in three mouthfuls of food we eat at every meal is reliant on produce which is supported by pollination. As our population grows, so does the demand for food and with increased agriculture, there is increased demand for bees. Every year in the US, an additional 40,000 honeybee hives are required for pollination. Bee keepers struggle to keep up with the demand. As gardeners, we need to encourage bees to visit our gardens by growing the wide variety of trees, flowers and vegetables.
Dear Flora: What function does a bee have in Pollination?
Signed: Bee Furtil
Dear BF: A bee visits a flower in search of nectar. Nectar contains sugar, which is the bee’s energy source. In their search for nectar and pollen for their own hives, bees in turn transfer pollen from one flower to another. Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from the male part of a flower (anther) to the receptive stigma of a flower. This process results in fertilization and later fruit production on the tree, flower or vegetable. Few flowers like the pollen from the same type of flower. Most require cross pollination which is why orchardists will grow different types of apples and pears together so that the bees are able to cross pollinate effectively. A very close relationship exists between flowers and bees.
Dear Flora: Are there different types of bees?
Signed: Bee Aware
Dear BA: There are many thousands of different types of bees. Honeybees are social bees working together in a hive where there is a queen bee. She is responsible for producing all the eggs. Bumble Bees are also social and find small crevices in the ground or trees to lay their eggs. Unlike the Bumble Bee which may fly into the neighbor’s garden and further in search of food, Mason Bees stay much closer to their nesting box or tunnel and will work hard in your garden if there is enough forage. They are a solitary bee, much smaller than a honeybee and regarded as a very effective pollinator. Increasingly, orchardists purchase them to increase fruit production.
Dear Flora: What does the mason bee look like?
Dear BF: Mason bees are small – about the width of your thumbnail. They are black with blue/green iridescence when viewed in the sunlight. Flies often mimic bees in color and shape. Bluebottle flies look a lot like Mason Bees but their habit of being on refuse rather than visiting flowers is the best indicator as to whether you are looking at a Mason bee or a fly.
Dear Flora: What is the lifecycle of the Mason Bee?
Dear BN: After emerging from a cocoon, a female mason bee seeks a new home in a tree cavity often created by beetles. She mates and begins collecting pollen and nectar that she takes back to her nesting tunnel. She works diligently during the warmth of the day visiting flowers often returning to her nest to deposit pollen and nectar. After visiting approximately 2,000 flowers, she will have collected enough pollen to lay an egg into a pollen ball. After collecting some mud, she seals off the cavity and repeats the process over and over again. In each 4-6" nesting tunnel, a mason bee will first lay female eggs and then later males. The pollen/nectar mix is the food source for the egg as it develops. The egg develops during the summer and later forms a cocoon to overwinter. The female mason bee lives approximately 6 weeks and is thought to make around 34,000 flower visits during that time.
Dear Flora: What do I need to do to encourage Mason Bees into my garden?
Bee at Home
Dear BaH: Mason Bees require a nest, food, mud source and a good location protected from excessive heat, wind and rain to be successful in your garden. Getting started can be as simple as fastening a specially made mason bee nest to an outside wall of a building. As a bluebird has specific requirements on her size of the hole into her nesting box so does each type of native bee. Start by drilling a 1’ x 3" log. Holes should be drilled 4-6" deep and 5/16" width. By drilling more logs with smaller holes (¼" and smaller) you will attract different types of natives. Place your log-nest so that the holes are facing southeast as the bees start foraging when the morning sun warms the bee inside the nesting tunnel. As native bees need mud and water as they build their nests, ensure a pond or creek is nearby (or simply dig a hole in the garden and keep it damp).
Dear Flora: Which plants are best for attracting native bees?
Gardening for Bees
Dear GfB: A wide variety of fruits, flowers, vegetables and herbs make a wonderful area for bees to forage. Some seed growers offer wild flower selections, which are specific for bees, or you can simply include some of the following in your garden.
Annuals: Bachelor’s button, cosmos, larkspur, poppy, sunflower and zinnas
Perennials: Yarrow, black eyed susan, coreopsis, coneflower, monarda –bee balm, penstemon, and Russian sage
Vegetables: Beans, peas, cucumber, summer and winter squash
Herbs: Basil, borage, catnip, coriander, dandelion, dill, fennel, lavender, mint, oregano, and rosemary
Fruits: Apple, currants, raspberry, strawberry
Wildflower mixes make a colorful border in every garden and are wonderful bee-attractants.
Dear Flora: How can I get involved with other gardeners in the region to share ideas and learn?
Signed, Gnu Gardiner
Dear GG: One way is to attend a Sage & Snow Garden Club meeting. We meet from 5:00 p.m.to 7:00 p.m. on the third Tuesday of the month at the Sublette County Weed & Pest Office at 12 South Bench Road, Pinedale. The educational topic for October is "Preserving Food." To find out more about the Garden Club & read all Ask Flora articles, visit our website at www.sageandsnow.org. You can also call the club president Jeanne (307-367-4211).