Denise Shreeve is a beekeeper of an unusual sort. Instead of honey bees at her home in McLean, Va., she raises native orchard mason bees -- solitary bees that don't produce honey, but do pollinate abundant gardens and crops. Shreeve also designs bee houses -- including some made from antiques -- so backyard beekeepers and gardeners can take advantage of these amazing native pollinators. "I find antique artifacts like this corbel, and drill holes in them for our native bees to nest in," she writes. "They become beautiful yard sculptures that recycle beautiful artifacts and provide nesting sites for our native bees. Does it get any better than that?" Here's her quick primer on native bees:
Orchard mason bees are native to the entire North American continent and are amazingly efficient pollinators, especially of early fruit and nut trees. (It takes only 250 OMB's to pollinate one acre of commercial apple orchards. It would take 25,000 honey bees to accomplish the same task.) After completing a honey beekeeping course a few years ago, and realizing how many chemicals it takes to keep them alive, I decided to research native bees as an alternative. It's been a fascinating project and I know that our native bees (there are over 20,000 different species in North America alone) can certainly take up the slack as our honey bee populations decline. Since they are cavity nesters like blue birds, and cannot drill their own nesting holes, I decided to help grow their populations by designing bee houses for them, similar to blue bird trails that are so popular now.
I could go on and on about these fascinating little insects, but here are a few facts you might find interesting:
Orchard Mason Bees (aka: OMBs, Mason Bees, Blue Orchard Bees or BOB's) are gentle, mild-mannered solitary bees that rarely, if ever, sting. (Males don't even have stingers.)
They are not affected by the parasitic mites that are killing the honey bees.
OMBs do not make honey, but rather use collected nectar and pollen to feed themselves and their young.
They dont have a Queen to defend so will never attack if disturbed, making them very safe around kids and pets, and fun and educational to watch.
Theyre a bit smaller and rounder than a honey bee, and have a beautiful blue-green metallic shine in the sun.
They are native to North America, unlike honey bees which were brought over from England in the 1630s. This makes OMB's well-adapted to pollinate our plants.
Image at right by Denise Shreeve of a native bee house made from an antique. Learn more at Virginia Native Bees.
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