I just got some bees in the mail. They’re not honey bees, they’re called Orchard Mason Bees. They don’t live in a hive or make honey, and they very rarely sting people. In the winter they live in cocoons, like these
(Note the little collapsed box behind them, you’ll see that again.)
The advantage to Orchard Mason Bees, apart from the fact that they don’t sting, is that they’re much better pollinators than honey bees. First of all, where as honey bees travel for miles to reach whatever type of nectar they happen to want at the moment, mason bees never travel more than a few hundred yards, meaning they pollinate your garden, not somewhere random in the city (assuming you live in a city.) They’re also claimed to visit many more flowers, perhaps more than twice as many flowers, as honey bees; and to pollinate 90%+ of those flowers, as compared to a 5% rate for honey bees. (These numbers and all other facts, unless otherwise stated, come from the delightful book, “The Orchard Mason Bee” by Brian Griffin.)
Of course the only reason we should welcome something into our garden isn’t the practical, concrete purpose it serves, and so it is with the mason bees: unlike the European invaders, the honey bees, these are a California native bee. They are a natural part of the ecosystem, and so both benefit and benefit from it. They make their home here happily, and do so without humans having to intervene at all – in fact if we try to do anything for them, like move their nesting site to a sunnier place, it only confuses them!
But enough pontificating. Hopefully you like these little creatures as much as I do. Let me show you the little house I made for them
This is my first attempt, and the holes are a little uneven, but I don’t think the bees will mind.
Notice the little box on the side; this is the box from the first picture. It’s where the cocoons will rest until the bees wake up. Usually the bees spend the whole winter in chambers stacked in tunnels or tubes, with a mud wall separating the chambers and the bees inside (the ‘mason’ part of their name.) That’s what all the 5/8″ holes in the 4×4 are going to house this coming winter, I hope. However when they send you the bees, they take the cocoons out of the tubes before they put them in the post; they claim the bees don’t mind, I hope it’s true!
One design point, the holes actually go all the way through the 4×4, but the back is sealed with a piece of plywood attached with screws
This is so the holes can be cleaned out with a pipe cleaner next season. Otherwise predatory mites and wasps can infect the tubes and attack the next generation.