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About Orchard Mason Bees
May 12, 2008

What busy past week.

To top it all off, I had to work Mothers Day.

At least it was a cool and rainy day.

Time goes by way to fast this time of year and I don't want to spend it all working.

Oh well, such is life.

I hope Mothers Day went well.

I spent some quiet time with memories of my mom.

Karen's mom spent the afternoon with with her and Yolanda.

Temperatures have been cooler than normal, but still some nice yard playing days (I get some time in).

Flowers last longer when it is a bit cooler (in the 60's).

We managed some well needed rain and plant life continues to explode with new growth and flowers.

A male Ruby-throated hummingbird has blessed us with his presence. A few days early this year, or I saw him earlier than in years past.

Either way, they are a joy we all look forward to.

I don't know of a single person that wont stop what they are doing to admire all aspects of hummers.

When preparing your flower gardens for hummers, be sure to plant lots of their favorite bloomers and plant them in bunches. Bunches are more attractive to the little birds and make feeding easier.

Perennials like Monarda "Jacob cline" (red) and "Marshall's delight" (pink) are favorites all the way around. They offer a rich nectar for the birds and are mildew resistant for our liking.

Hyssops, Sages and Salvias are all big hits with hummingbirds across North America.

Be sure to check out hummer gardens and hummingbird flowers

You may even consider a hummingbird container or pot for your porch or deck.

Containers are limited by your imagination.

My walks near woods edge and in the woods continue to treat me with blooming wild flowers and birds.

This weeks visitors are Catbirds.

Besides the familiar cat call, the males have a very pretty song.

Wouldn't you love to make a tape of all your local birds singing?

Robins, Grosbeaks, Thrashers, Bluebirds, Chickadees, Cardinals, Meadowlarks, Cardinals, Orioles, Finches and all your local birds on a nice CD.

It would be something to cherish in the dead of winter.

Bluejays have gone stealthy now.

You may see them, but rarely hear them during nesting season.

Speaking of nests.

A Killdeer is sitting on 4 eggs and the Garden Center.

A mama duck has found favor in the "Provin Winners" plants and is sitting on 8 eggs. I hope she doesn't freak out from all the human traffic.

In years past, a duck will build a nest some where but something always seems to happen.

A robin has 3 eggs in one of the Poodle pines as well.

For some reason, garden centers and nurseries are magnets for nesting birds.

Speaking of poodles, leash training with Ziggy the poodle pup continues very slowly. He begs to go for a walk, yet is a pansy when I get him out there.

Keet is so jealous (even though she just had her walk), she waits for our return. She growls, and jumps on the Ziglet and then a few moments later, off they go in a game of tag.

I continue to enjoy White crowned sparrows and I will until they head North.

Now, if the Indigo buntings show up, things will be just fine.

About a month ago, I placed a small window platform feeder on Yolanda's window.

For new readers, Yolanda is our special girl, brain injured in a car accident several years ago. She loves Cardinals and the feeder brings them right to her window for a close up look at them.

As you can imagine, several species of birds hang out at her window now, including Cardinals and For now, a pair of Rose breasted grosbeaks.

If it weren't for the shape of the bill, you wouldn't know they are the same bird as female is much different looking than he is.

Keeping water in birdbaths can be a challenge this time of year. To keep birds around, you need to have water.

Water can attract more birds than feeders will.

Often Warblers and other insect feeders will stop by for a drink.

Birds we may never see in our yards otherwise.

Fresh water keeps them coming back for more.

Garden centers offer tender plants early in the season. If you are still at risk for frost and freeze, resist buying or at least resist planting any tenders that could be ruined by cold weather.

Wait until your the danger of frost has past.

I understand the temptation, but you are wise to resist.

Ann from Manton, Michigan asked about some of our native insects, so this week I will touch on one of our important native pollinating insects.

The Mason Bee.

If you have a topic of interest, and you want me to write about it, please let me know and I will do my best.

Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria)

The orchard mason bee is a gentle beneficial insect that has great potential as a pollinator of apples, cherries, and other tree fruits, besides in our gradens.

They are found throughout most of North America, particularly in wooded areas but often around homes in towns and cities.

Homeowners sometimes become concerned when they see the bee entering cavities under shake siding or investigating nail holes or other cavities in wood during March through early June.

These are not destructive insects, since they do not excavate holes in the wood, though they will clean out loose debris.

No controls are recommended, since no damage is done.

If you want to prevent the bee from nesting, holes may be filled with caulking.

The Orchard mason bee is usually slightly smaller than a honey bee and a shiny dark blue in color.

The actual size of the bee depends largely upon the size of the hole in which it grew. Males are smaller than females, have longer antennae and an additional tuft of light colored hairs on the face.

Females have hairs on the underside of the abdomen, called the "scopa", for carrying pollen.

Nesting Habits

The female uses existing holes in wood and hllow plant stems for a nest.

She chooses holes slightly larger than her body, usually 1/4 to 3/8 inches in diameter.

The bee first places a mud plug at the bottom of the hole, then brings in 15 to 20 loads of nectar and pollen which she collects from spring flowers, including apples and other fruits.

If you watch the bee closely as she enters the nest, you can see the pollen on the underside of her abdomen.

When the female has provided a sufficient supply of food for the larva, she lays an egg and then seals the cell with a thin mud plug.

She then provisions another cell, and continues in this fashion until the hole is nearly full. Finally the bee plasters a thick mud plug at the entrance.

Some wasps and leaf-cutter bees also build nests in such holes but their nests can be distinguished from the orchard mason bee nests by characteristics of the plug.

The plug of the mason bee is always rough while the wasp prepares a smooth plug.

Leaf-cutters seal the holes with chewed-up leaves.

The female Orchard mason bee lives for about a month and can produce one or two eggs each day.

With most bees and wasps, a queen survives the winter to start a new hive (honey bees keep the hive going even in the dead of winter).

The larva hatches from the egg after a few days and begins to eat its provisions.

When the pollen-nectar mass is completely eaten in about 10 days, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates within the cell.

Near the end of the summer the bee transforms to the adult stage but remains in the cocoon throughout the winter.

In the spring, when the weather has warmed up sufficiently, the males begin to emerge by chewing their way out of the cocoons and through the mud plugs.

The females, which are almost always in the inner cells of the tunnel, emerge several days later. One or two weeks may be required for all the bees to emerge during cool weather.

Females mate soon after emerging, then begin nesting in 3 to 4 days.

The bees will forage on a number of different flowers.

In wooded areas, they seem to prefer ballhead waterleaf. In urban areas, dandelion and Oregon grape are commonly visited, in addition to cherries and apples.

A Gentle Bee

Without a nest or hive to protect, the Orchard mason bee is non-aggressive and will sting only if handled roughly or if it should get trapped under clothing.

It is less objectionable than the honey bee as a pollinator in urban areas and you should encourage it.

Efforts are being made experimentally to develop large populations of these bees to use as a supplement to honey bees for fruit pollination, especially with the huge decline in European honeybees.

You can encourage these pollinating machines to stay in your yard by offering nesting sights.

Here is a site from the USDA on making homes for Mason bees.if you are interested in doing so.

If there isn't a natural mud source available, or near the nesting shelters, dig a shallow hole, line it with plastic, and fill it with moist soil.

A simple drip irrigator can be made from a plastic bucket and a piece of drip irrigation tubing to keep the soil moist.

Nature Study

In addition to their value as pollinators, Orchard mason bees are fascinating insects for nature study.

Observation nests can be fashioned from transparent plastic or glass tubes placed in a box that can be opened for observation.

As one of God's little wonders, we need to be aware of what is flying around our yard. Handle the Mason bee with care and they pose no threat.

Admire the tireless work they do and the benifits they provide us.

Like the Hover-fly and other beneficial insects, we need to keep them healthy and happy.

After all, they provide a vital service for humans and other wildlife.

Research continues and efforts are being made to build up Mason bee populations for pollinating commercial orchards and other crops.

Well, I hope this tidbit helps you out on Mason bees.

It also shows us how important the natural world is to us....................

Even the little things we take for granted.

As a Naturalist, I have respect and some knowledge.

The experts or entomologists that dedicates his or her life to the study of bees can help us with new information.

However, it is you and me on the front lines that can really make a difference in helping our benificial insects.

We can stay away from insecticides and possibly offer homes and nesting sights for our garden helpers.

It's time to fly for this week.

Do have a blessed week and enjoy the world around you.

Here is your thought of the week.

The potential of the average person is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good.

Brian Tracy

Wow, if that doesn't make a person want to smile.

You know, a smile is a good starting point and think of all the good that a simple smile can start.

It can put you in a positive mood which leads to a better day.

You can share your smiles and make the day of another person that just might need that at that moment.

Smile your best smile and be sure to share it with a stranger.

If nothing else, you just might confuse them.

Until next time my friend.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers. Better yet, have them sign up so they can recieve their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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