For bees, the flower is the fountain of life. For flowers, the bee is the messenger of love. —Khalil Gibran, Lebanese-American poet (1883-1931)
In May 2017, an incredible thing happened. We saw scores of mason bees! I delighted watching them emerge from their pencil-sized chambers in a block of recycled wood hung on the carport post. Until then, there were no mason bees. Not since we lived in the city more than twenty years ago. It was in the city we enjoyed the blue orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria)—a dark, heavy-bodied, sluggish flyer, the size of a housefly that looks black until sunlight turns them blue.
For twenty years, the Carport Bee house lay vacant. Then, one fine spring day a handful of bees moved in. But these bees were different. They didn’t look like orchard bees. They weren’t dark, and they weren’t blue. They looked like small honeybees. I began researching and found them to be California mason bees (Osmia californica)—a docile, native bee that inhabits mountains and valleys.
My journal entry May 3, 2017—It was a happy day in the woods. I encountered my first California mason bees buzzing the Carport Bee House. They look like miniature honey bees. They are small, and so beautiful, and so energetic. Most of the chambers are full. Next spring will be an exciting time.
The mason bee hatch was a success! It was one heck of a party. The swarm grew to such size the bees were desperate for space. They tried to squeeze between cracks in the beams to lay their eggs, but their little bee-hinds wouldn’t fit. One of them found the hinge of the security screen door a favorable spot. Another laid her eggs inside between the kick-plate of the security screen; now officially named The Bee Door. A second bee house (a Christmas gift from my Dad) was added last year. We hung it at the SW corner of the outbuilding under the eave that catches the afternoon sunlight. In the spring of 2018, the mason bees moved right in, and our woods have been abuzz ever since.
About mason bees . . .
About 140 species of mason bees live in North America. The mason bee is a docile creature that rarely stings. If one does sting, according to reports, it is no worse than a mosquito bite. The mason bee gets its name because, like a mason using mortar to seal brick and stone, the mason bee uses mud to seal her egg chambers. Masons are solitary nesters that have a gentle nature and do well with other bees. The nest is typically tubular—a pencil-sized chamber either natural, or artificial. In spring, when the temperature reaches 58 degrees, the bees emerge. Males emerge first and mate with females that emerge a few days later. The males die shortly after. Females are strictly pollinators, and do not make honey. They eat pollen and nectar and visit whatever flower suits them within 300 yards of the nest. The mason bee is a hard worker. A single female can pollinate as many as 20,000 blossoms per day, twenty percent more than a honeybee. As early as March, she begins her work pollinating flowers, gathering mud, and laying eggs.
Each egg is supplied with pollen. Inside the tube, each egg has a private room sealed with a “mud plug.” From March to June, or as little as 4 to 10 weeks, she works from sunup to sundown until the tube nest is complete. The female then dies. Her children develop quickly into larvae that feast on the pollen supply. By September, they are fully formed bees that will hibernate through winter and emerge in spring eager to repeat the cycle.
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