I had almost forgotten what it was like to be outside in my yard and feel the warm sun upon me.
A week of fantastic weather only means one thing to me: get outside, pull some weeds, plant some flowers and this year watch our little group of orchard mason bees go to work.
Every spring I love to work in and write about our family P-patch, vegetable and fruit garden. To get the best, freshest and longest running harvest out of it we are always looking for options and garden success stories from other amateurs who enjoy puttering around as we do.
This year we discovered the ability to host orchard mason bees from our friends at the Bremerton City Nursery. What are orchard mason bees you ask? They are industrious and hardworking pollinators who will assist your flowers, fruits and vegetables in producing the bumper crop you are looking for.
Honeybees tend to get most of the attention and the press when it comes to the plight of the pollinators.
Environmental circumstances, both man made and from nature, have taken a toll on the populations of indigenous bees. Subsequently our plant life that requires their services has suffered as well.
The mason bee while not nearly as flashy or pretty as a honey bee or a bumble bee works very hard. It is what is called a “solitary” bee. They live and work their entire lives alone instead of in a hive.
Head-to-head with honeybees, mason bees are much more efficient at collecting pollen. Mason bees do not make honey, however they have fewer drawbacks than most bees. They are very gentle and tend to stay focused on their work and not on chasing after other inhabitants of the yard. Unless they are in extreme danger, they will not sting and their stingers are very small.
They live and lay their eggs in single tubular enclosures. These enclosures are then “housed” as a block in a south facing shelter. It is best for our area to put the block of tubes out in mid-February.
Depending on the weather and warmth for the spring at hand, look for the first bees to emerge some time in March. The first bees you see will be the males. They will wait several days for the females to appear.
After mating the males will die and it is up to the females to begin their pollen collections, lay their eggs within the tubes and complete their efforts within the four to six weeks of their life cycle. Mason bees have a range of about a 100 yards. If enough new tubes are provided, each year the number of mason bees you host in your shelters will continue to grow.
We started with a small, basic shelter that has a sliding door where we can watch two of the tubes being filled and three tubes of mason bees to be hatched. As of this week, the females have been out and about, loving my urban apple tree blossoms and rhododendron flowers.
It is too late in the season to start hosting mason bees now, but in October tubes of bees to be hatched for the next spring will be ready for purchase and winter storage.
If you feel your yard needs some additional pollination, look at hosting your own group of orchard mason bees. They are a fun, easy way to keep Bremerton yards and gardens green, sustainable and healthy.
Colleen Smidt is a longtime resident of Bremerton who writes weekly about topics that matter to her community.