The Orchard Mason bee is a gentle insect, native to this area, and pollinates fruit trees, berries, and other crops. It is slightly smaller than a honeybee, with a shiny dark blue color. Mason bees are solitary which means that they do not live in hives. The term, “Busy as a Bee” must have been coined from the Mason bee. Just 2 or 3 females can pollinate a mature fruit tree. This means that only about 250 females can pollinate an acre of fruit trees. They will fly 100 to 200 yards in search of pollen.
You can help cultivate the Mason bee population in your yard and therefore increase the pollination of your trees and plants. Please consider installing a bee house on your property. These can be purchased from a nursery or feed store with a series of cardboard tubes placed together inside the “House.” Or you can build your own by simply drilling holes in any kind of wood. These holes need to be approximately 1/4” to 3/8” in diameter and at least 3” deep.
An ideal material would be a 4 X 4 post. The best place to install a bee house would be on the side of a house or shed which is protected from direct sun and rain. The east side under a roof is best. The bees will avoid nesting if the bee house is placed in the open.
The bees do not live together as in a swarm or a hive. They mate soon after hatching and live a solitary life. The females lay their eggs in the tubes or holes and then cap the end of the tube with mud. In the spring the bees emerge from the tubes and the cycle begins again.
Bee houses should be replaced every few years to prevent the spread of parasites and pathogens.
Visit the Washington State University- Spokane County Extension for more information. https://extension.wsu.edu/spokane/