Native mason bee for backyard gardens, part I

Published 7:00 am Friday, June 10, 2016

Many native pollinators are in serious trouble.
For example, a number of our roughly 50 native bumblebee species are in precipitous decline, with a couple of species likely having gone extinct in recent years, and a few others possibly teetering on the brink of extinction. The presentation by Dr. Blair Sampson USDA at MSU’s 38th Annual Horticultural Field Day on October 6, 2011 in Poplarville, MS motivated Mississippi State University Extension Service Pearl River County Master Gardeners (PRCMGs) to take action.
Dr. Sampson told us that:
– Many native bees prefer cavities in wood, cardboard, or styrofoam to build their nests.
– Drill suitably sized holes (1/4 in. for Osmia) into soft wood, such as pine (not treated wood)
– Make holes 4-6 in. deep (for very large condos make holes in a pattern)
– Burnish (gets rid of pitch/resin in new wood- no need to burnish old wood) then paint.
– Paint the condo white with water based latex paint and affix them to old wooden fence posts. Bees like the contrast dark/light and helps them find the hole.
– Establish the nest sites in sheltered areas or edge of woods where there is plenty of weathered wood as well as protection from wind, rain, and ants (not in live trees).
– Face nests SE so bees get a lot of sun- install 3-4 ft high.
– Two species of native orchard mason bees peaceably nest side by side. One species is an important blueberry pollinator, the other pollinates apples, cherries and almonds. Once mated, female bees soon begin provisioning their nests with nest lining materials such as mud, leaf pulp, or resin. They sculpt pollen balls, which serve as their larvae’s only source of nourishment.
Within minutes or hours of emerging from cocoons, male and female bees locate one another and mate. Fertilized eggs become female brood, whereas unfertilized eggs are destined to be males. Mature larvae, pupas, and young adults spend 96 percent of their life in the nest and in tough silken cocoons. Many pests and predators will eat these nutritious tidbits. Sometimes you may have to bird- and lizard-proof the bee condos. Why you should care about pollinators? These tiny creatures have a profound impact on your daily life because more than a third of our food supply relies on the plants they pollinate. The not only impact human food crops and animal forage but also contribute to higher yields of cotton for clothing and canola for energy. Our roughly 4,000 species of native bees, as a group, are overlooked. The honeybee is not native to North America, but in fact, it was first imported by Europeans in the 1600s. Our native bees represent an amazing diversity of species. They range from large bumblebees that form social colonies of a single queen and her daughter-workers, to tiny metallic blue or green sweat bees that excavate nests in the ground and live solitary lives, laying few eggs on a pollen provision and not living long enough to see their offspring hatch.
Many native bees have complex life cycles. Some nest inside snail shells, some construct elaborate origami-like nests out of carefully folded leaf pieces. And, they have cozy relationships with specific native plants, emerging for only a few weeks each year when their preferred wildflower blooms. Contrary to popular belief, most of our native bees are gentle creatures that do not sting. In fact, a number of our native bees have stingers too weak to even penetrate human skin. You can help by planting wildflowers. Especially if you include a diversity of native flowering plants in your landscape or in pots so there is a succession of different plant species blooming throughout the year.

Eileen Hollander, MSU-ES Pearl River County Extension Service Master Gardener

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