With declining bee populations and pesticides in constant threat of other pollinators, a growing interest in pollinator gardens and other bee-attracting inclusions exist. If you hope to attract gentle and effective bees to your garden, consider constructing an orchard bee house. Orchard bees are nonaggressive pollinators of fruit trees, and this makes them both welcome to gardens and necessary for boosting fruit tree produce. Constructing your own orchard bee house involves readily accessible garden supplies and three easy steps.
With a variety of fruit tree, shrubs, and vines in our local edible forest garden (The Blue Heron Edible Forest Garden), we were excited to learn how easy it might be to attract orchard mason bees to our area. After perusing a variety of bee house designs and options, we realized that everything we needed to build excellent homes with all the necessary protective elements were available in our very own garden shed and space. Collecting the materials necessary, we planned this activity for a visiting class from the University of Montevallo in Shelby County, Alabama.
Material for Orchard Mason Bee House Construction
The Materials Required to Construct This Pretty, Durable, and Effective Orchard Mason Bee House Are:
- a 6″ high clay flower pot
- two long zip ties
- a rubber band
- ten 6-8″ lengths of cane or bamboo with inner holes of 5/16″-1/2″
- natural clay
- small lengths of straw
- a bucket of clean water
- art supplies.
Because gardening is our life, clay flower pots are of no short supply, but these pots are available at any garden shop, hardware store, or anywhere else flowers are sold. Plastic pots may be substituted, but clay is better because it breathes well, insulates, and sweats out excess moisture. Zip ties and rubber bands may be purchased in garden shops and hardware stores, too, with small and bulk quantities at inexpensive prices. Our cane came from local roadsides, and we salvaged our clay from surplus left by municipal workers servicing the trail running through the garden. Additionally, we filled our water bucket directly from the creek, which is reported by the city to be very clean.
Paints and pens selected to decorate the orchard mason bee houses should be non-toxic and biodegradable whenever possible.
Ten Easy Steps to Construct Your Own Orchard Mason Bee House
Placing the supplies on a large table in the middle of our garden, we invited each student to:
- SELECT his/her own pot
- SLIP the first zip tie through the drain hole at the bottom, securing it to the outside.
- DAB clay to fill the bottom of the pot by 1/2″
- GATHER cane
- WRAP the rubber band around the cane to hold it securely in a cluster
- PUSH the cane cluster into the cane at the bottom of the pot, holding it in place as
- more clay MIXED with straw is PLACED around the cluster to secure and insulate it
- DECORATE the pot according to personal aesthetics
- SLIP the second zip tie beneath the first, looping it around to SECURE it, leaving a broad space for hanging.
- HANG the Orchard Mason Bee House on a hook, limb, or other extension in or near the garden.
WATER is kept close by to help thin clay as necessary and to wash hands.
Why You Should Make Your Garden Orchard Mason Bees’ Home Sweet Home
Emerging in early spring at about the time redbud trees produce tiny hot pink blossoms, male orchard mason bees await the latter emergence of female orchard mason bees to mate. Foraging areas of about 100 yards radius, female mason bees nest in deepholes in trees, plant stems, and other natural items. Rolling a ball of pollen, the female bee places it in the hole and lays an egg upon it. Then, she seals that portion of the deep hole to make a cell to protect the larva that develops there. Repeating this throughout the hole, she caps the hole with a protective shield of clay.
Extremely effective fruit tree pollinators, orchard mason bees accomplish their work within a 4-6 week period in the spring, and after that they go die. Throughout the summer, larva develops in the cells, cocoons are made, and adults grow. Remaining in the cells for rest, the adults go dormant in the fall. Cold weather provides the necessary element to help the new generation break its dormancy to emerge, like its forebears, in the early spring.
Perhaps one of the tiniest creatures to be seen with unaided eyes in the garden, orchard mason bees are among the beneficial insects to be made most welcome in your fruit tree, flower, or vegetable garden, anywhere blossoms are available. Following these ten easy steps to constructing orchard mason bee houses, you’ll be creating dream homes to host garden beauty and promote health for your plants.