Because of a chance stop at a booth at the NW Flower and Garden show, I became familiar with the Blue Orchard or Mason Bee. From this encounter a few years ago, I have become involved in and fascinated by the raising of these energetic little guys and gals. They are native to our area and are perhaps a potential hardy supplement to our troubled imported honeybees. Since they are solitary and do not live in hives, they are less subject to the transfer of disease or pesticides to their compatriots. As pollinators, they are many times more effective per bee than honey bees, and so are potentially valuable for American orchardists. In fact, the Japanese, since WWII, have come to raise and use them extensively for pollination of apples as environmental change affected other pollinators. A recent study by the U. of Vermont Gund Institute shows that Washington State stone fruit production may be at risk due to the decline of native bees.
This summer, our Mayor announced a “Bee Week” following a resolution by the City Council to make Seattle the nation’s largest Bee City. Native wild bees are an integral part of this effort. In fact, the U.S. Agriculture Dept. has funded a large study by Washington State University of native pollinators and their role in organic food systems. The research project will continue through 2016 on 18 local farms. You can Google or Yahoo “NW Pollinator Initiative” and “Common Acre” for more information.
I have a small supply of Mason Bee cocoons and wooden blocks that are used to provide the holes that the bees need to raise their next generation. If any readers are interested in raising these gentle bees either for fruit tree pollination or just in order to observe their busy life cycle, they may contact me through the News. I will advise on placement and will collect the cocoons and materials at the end of the season. There is no need to feed or water them, just to enjoy. You do need to be quick though, because the bees will be ready to go soon and their housing needs to be set up and ready by late February, or early March at the latest. Placing these bees throughout Leschi will encourage more efficient pollination of our plants and trees.