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Solitary Bees | Mason Bees

Solitary bees, and other species of bees, are very different from honey bees, so although this website is really about honeybees we thought we should include a little information about them. Bees in the genus Osmia are collectively called mason bees or orchard bees because they cap their nests with mud.

This type of solitary bee house can be home made or purchased ready made.

Installing a block for solitary bees.
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Several species of bees are currently being used or are being studied for use as commercial pollinators as an alternative to honey bees. The hornfaced bee (Osmia cornifrons) is the primary pollinator of apple orchards in Japan, and has been cultivated for this purpose. It was introduced to the United States in the 1970's and is managed commercially to pollinate apple orchards in California, Oregon, and parts of the northeastern United States.

The blue orchard bee (Osmia lignaria) is a great pollinator of early spring crops, and is managed commercially because it is easily reared, is a highly efficient pollinator, and requires fewer bees to pollinate crops than honey bees. The blueberry bee (Osmia ribifloris) is being evaluated as a commercial pollinator of blueberry in the eastern United States.

Mason bee or solitary bee house. This type of solitary bee house can be home made or purchased ready made.


These bees make good commercial pollinators for several reasons. They naturally make nests in tunnels in wood and other cavities; this nesting habitat is easy to mimic and the bees accept artificial nests. Additionally, these bees are low cost and require little care. In some cases these bees seem to actually be better pollinators than honey bees (Apis mellifera) because they fly in cooler weather and individual bees move more between trees.

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Over one hundred crop species in North America require a visit from an insect pollinator to be most productive. In the past, native bees and feral honey bees could meet the pollination needs of small orchards, tomato and pumpkin fields, and berry patches, because these farms were typically adjacent to areas of habitat that harbored important pollinators. Today, many farms are large and, at the same time, have less nearby habitat to support native pollinators. To ensure adequate pollination services, producers now rely on European honey bees. Research, however, shows that native bees can be important pollinators in agricultural fields as long as enough habitat is available. Go here to download information about solitary bee pollination.

You can easily provide a home for one of nature's best pollinators. Of the more than 20,000 species of bees, two of the most common are the blue orchard bee and the horn-faced bee. One-half to two-thirds the size of a honey bee, these passive bees live only six to eight weeks but lay eggs in this house. The eggs remain dormant through the fall and winter, and offspring emerge in the spring to pollinate plants. Hangs near the garden and requires no maintenance. Or buy a house for solitary bees here.