Have you ever seen a Mason bee? Last spring I was drawn to my both of my neighbors beautiful fruit trees; apple and crabapple blossoms are a feast for flower loving eyes, and each time I approached one of these blooming trees I could hear the sound of Honeybees. Delighted, each morning I would stand under those boughs just listening to the humming of what seemed like a thousand bees joyously soaking up this natural symphony…
When I saw the blue – black Mason bee burrowing its head into a fuchsia blossom I was transported back to Maine…
Why? Because in Maine the Honeybee collapse, (due to invasive mites) has decimated the population. To give you a poignant example, just yesterday I was outdoors inspecting my luminous pearl white almost tree –like hydrangea that always comes into bloom in early September. Each year I used to anxiously await the arrival of honeybees to watch them search out the sweet nectar of this lovely plant. These days an ominous silence splits the sky in two. Then amazingly I saw a single iridescent blue- black bee land on a flower, and in that moment was transported back to Abiquiu…
New Mexico has many native bees that pollinate 75 percent of the native wildflowers and fruit trees, like plum, prune, almonds, apples, and cherries. These native bees including the Mason bee are actually more efficient pollinators than Honey bees but don’t make honey.
Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are found throughout the fruit growing areas of the upper Rio Grande (as well as in Maine). There are about a dozen other species in the genus Osmia that are found in New Mexico. Most nest in tunnels in wood, straw or in homemade houses that people provide for them. The bees typically provision each brood cell in their small nests with a ball of nectar and pollen to feed the larvae. For anyone interested, it is also possible to buy wooden nests commercially.
Mason bees (like other wild bees) have many advantages over Honey – bees. They are very docile and do not sting. Most are solitary or form very small colonies (like Bumble bees do). Mason bees are also active during inclement weather. They are such efficient pollinators that fewer bees are needed. They are also resistant to mites.
If you live in Abiquiu New Mexico you can help support Mason and other native bees by purchasing locally grown fruit at farmers markets like the one in Espanola that Sabra Moore runs.
You can also grow bee friendly plants and trees in your yards. It is important to provide water that is changed every day for the bees. It is also eco- friendly to leave your bees a pile of unused open sand/dirt somewhere in your yard, because Miner bees, for example, live in holes in the ground and they use mud to seal their nests. Because Osmia nest in holes in dead wood an old woodpile that is left all year round for these blue orchard bees to nest in is also most desirable.
Photo of my bee loving bush
I once took bees for granted, enjoying their presence but not focusing on individuals beyond the friendly bumble bees that I loved as a child. But these days I am anxious to learn about all kinds of native bees, because Nature is doing her best to compensate for lost bees (especially the European honey bees that provide us with honey), and we want to do anything we can to help them! It is important to remember that without bees pollinating our plants and flowers we would not have fresh vegetables and fruit to eat.