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Everyday Environmentalist

Bee Wild

Orchard mason bees are a beneficial pollinator in wooded areas across much of North America.

"Orchard mason bees are a fascinating and beneficial pollinator in wooded areas and gardens across much of North America ."

Jonathan Hoekstra, director of emerging strategies for The Nature Conservancy

By Jonathan Hoekstra

You've heard about the mysterious colony collapse afflicting domesticated honey bees across the United States. Here's something you can do: Give a home to a wild honey bee cousin. 

Shiny dark blue — and a bit smaller than a honey bee — orchard mason bees are a fascinating and beneficial pollinator in wooded areas and gardens across much of North America. If you provide them with a home — just a block of wood with 1/4 inch holes drilled 2-3 inches deep — these gentle solitary bees will do the rest.

On a sunny day, you can observe them collecting pollen from fruit trees and flowers — and then storing it in the holes, where they lay their eggs and then seal them in with mud.  The young bees feed on the pollen and then chew their way out the next spring to do their own pollinating and egg laying.

The bees are pretty widespread naturally, but you can also buy bees from suppliers such as Knox Cellars. As honey bee colonies continue to die out, orchard mason bees may take on greater ecological and economic importance as pollinators for billions of dollars worth of fruits and vegetables.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not represent those of The Nature Conservancy.

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