Say hello to my wee colony of mason bees.
Mason bees are native to Oregon. They are non-aggressive (you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone stung by one), have a lovely blue sheen, and are vastly superior at pollinating fruit and vegetables than the transplanted western honey bee. What’s not to like?
After several run-ins with mason bees in my yard, last year I took a workshop to learn how to cultivate them myself. Local mason bee enthusiast Sherian Wright gave a great presentation (much of which is available online), after which I got two tubes of hibernating bees and bought a little house for my colony to grow into. My new pets worked very hard during the spring to fill up their new home.
Naturally this year my population expanded, and I’ve been fascinated by observing the bees hard at work right next to my front door. In an attempt to learn even more about mason bees this year, I just finished reading The Orchard Mason Bee by Brian Griffin (no, not that Brian Griffin).
If you’re able, I’d first suggest attending the mason bee workshop at Backyard Bird Shop, where you can ask Wright any questions you have. The workshop is not free, but the registration fee pays for itself–you’ll receive two tubes of bees during class. (A brilliant moneymaking “giveaway”…Backyard Bird Shop is all but guaranteed to rake in even more money when newbie attendees like myself also buy a bee block so their new bees will have a place to work once emerging.)
If it’s no longer mason bee season or you want more information first, you could read The Orchard Mason Bee, or Wright’s book Mason Bees for the Backyard Gardener. There is also plenty of information available online through extension services of land-grant universities (like OSU or WSU), your local master gardener program, or even through Portland’s awesome Xerces Society.
If you’re not familiar, I suggest making acquaintance with our native bees!