Information Sheet 29

Raising Orchard Mason Bees

If you have developed an interest in bees, but aren't ready or able to keep honey bees, you might want to try encouraging local native bees as pollinators. Orchard mason bees ( Osmia lignaria and related species) are native bees that are becoming popular with gardeners and farmers. Mason bees are slightly smaller than honey bees, and are shiny dark blue, almost black in color. These gentle bees are not likely to sting, although they will defend themselves if stepped on or trapped under clothing.

Orchard mason bees occur naturally in Arizona and throughout the United States. In nature they nest in beetle galleries in wood. Unlike carpenter bees, mason bees are never destructive to homes or other wooden structures because they do not escavate nest holes themselves. But this means that nest holes may be in short supply. To encourage mason bees you can provide a bee house, the insect equivalent of a bird house. You can buy bee houses or purchase kits from Knox Cellars, 1607 Knox Ave., Bellingham, WA 98225, phone: (206) 733-3283 homepage at or from Insect Lore, P.O. Box 1535, Shafter, CA 93263, phone: (800) LIVE-BUG.

To build your own bee house, drill a series of holes 3/8 inches in diameter (smaller diameter holes will be used by leafcutter bees) three to six inches deep in pine or fir 4X4's or glued-up boards. Space the holes about 3/4 inch apart, the number and design are up to you. Paint and decorate as you wish. Mount the house firmly to fixed surface where it will get morning sun (the bees don't like to swing). Mason bees are active in the spring, so provide houses from February to July in Arizona. Holes that are being used will be plugged with mud.

Bee houses of this type will not attract Africanized honey bees or other social bees because honey bees need a softball-sized cavity or larger to build their honeycomb in.

Be the first person on your block with a bee house!

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