Our last couple of days have been suddenly warm and sunny. After late snows and extended rains, it’s a surprise to our bodies and minds. Throw open the windows! Breathe the sun!
Richard set our mason bee hatchery in a warm spot in hopes of bringing on an emergence, and the bees obliged with pleasure. I imagine the pleasure. If I had spent the winter holed up in a log plugged with mud at the entry, I would be ecstatic to see the sun.
Here is one of them just taking in the light of day.
This is probably a male. They are the first to emerge, and they linger at the nest site then, waiting for the girls to come out. The Orchard Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) are mostly unsung as a force in the garden, but they are early and efficient pollinators. They hatch and go to work in the orchard before the honey bee is ready to expose herself to the chill. They don’t ask much of life: only a niche in the shingles or right-sized hole in which to spend the winter, and a little something to eat when they quicken in the spring. We put out drilled wooden blocks or log sections like this one to encourage them to nest right here, and we give them the orchard for early sipping. How generous we are, to provide an entire orchard of mixed varieties, all for the gratification of the Orchard Mason Bee.
Check out the Orchard mason bee link to learn more about these gentle pollinators and how to make them feel at home in your garden.
Richard added this addendum, as a comment. Since I know not everyone sees the comments, I thought I’d insert his thoughts here:
That old log has been around for a long time. 10 years ago, we moved it from SE Portland where it already had been in service for several years. Mr. Knox, probably wouldn’t approve. [ed. note: “Mr. Knox” is the source from which you can purchase Orchard Mason Bees in our region. His website is linked just below in this comment.] The log is drilled, with no discernible precision, on both ends. As I recall, we started with a purchased 20-cell block that was full of bees (don’t know whether he sells those anymore.) We experimented with several materials for our own blocks. (4×4 cedar, redwood, pine, fir, etc. Most worked, although the aromatic woods that last a long time weren’t colonized until at least the second year.) For those intending to do it themselves, invest in a 5/16ths” brad tipped high speed bit. If you intend to use Knox’s paper tubes, you should find out what their outside diameter is.
A source for bees and nesting blocks (if you don’t have the equipment to drill your own) can be found at http://www.knoxcellars.com/ (They don’t have bees until fall of this year. However, if you anticipate adding bees when they come available, order a nesting block or two and Mr. Knox’s book. It’s possible you’ll snag some wild bees this spring.)
The only reason I refer you to Knox is that’s where we got started and he was prompt with delivery.
And a note about the bees: insecticides that kill hornets and wasps and other flying insects, of course kill orchard bees. Especially in small plots and around your garden, it’s probably a good idea to at least reduce the amount of insecticide you use. At the time of year orchard bees are flying, the real pests, bald faced hornets, haven’t emerged in numbers. And even they are not much of a problem until fall when natural forage begins to disappear and they try to fly off with your pork chop when you dine outside. Both wasps and hornets are beneficial in the garden. Except those that pose a hazard by nesting on the porch near a door or in the ground near a gate, we leave them alone. If you must kill them, try to use non-persistent insecticides that can be applied directly to the offending nest. [ed. note: I don’t mind the Bald-faced hornets so much — they seem to be pretty gentle, though they look black and mean. It’s the Yellowjackets I’d prefer to do without. But then, we’d be up to our necks in carrion I suppose, so we’d better keep them around, too.]