Native Beekeeping 101

Learn more about the return of native bees in "Bee Season."

Though they are one of North America's most common native bees, orchard mason bees have long been overshadowed by honey-producing European imports. With some plants, the orchard mason bee is a superior pollinator to its continental cousins, however, and introducing a healthy population into your garden will do wonders for your flowering trees and plants. You can do so with a minimum of space and fuss. Most American native bees, including the orchard mason, are solitary dwellers; the females nest alone in small chambers, not in hives, and they are less aggressive than the social but high-strung honeybee. You can make your own orchard mason bee home simply by drilling three-inch-long holes in a block of wood, but for a bee lodge with a little style, you can order these houses online (see below). For best results, place your bee home facing southeast in direct morning sunlight. —Alex Erikson

Bee houses

Top left: Plan Bee House from Our Native Bees ($60)

Right: Orchard Mason Bee Home from Planet Natural ($34.50) 

Bottom left: Mason Bee Starter Home Kit from Nature Hills Nursery ($15.95)

Native Bees That Are Good for Your Garden

1. Squash bee (Peponapis pruinosa) Particularly adept at pollinating squash and gourds. Starts at dawn and tolerates cold weather. Lives in solitary ground burrows; promote by leaving beds untilled and pesticide-free. Range: North America

 2. Orchard mason bee (Osmia lignaria) Makes solitary nests in any available hollow. Has a short flight range but is fantastic at pollinating fruit trees. Drill holes in wood (or buy a kit) to attract. Range: North America.

 3. Mariola bee (Tetragonisca angustula) One of few native American bees that produces honey; venerated by Mayans. Stingless, lives in communal nests in hollow logs; used in reforestation efforts in Central America. Range: Central America.

 4. Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) Lives in communal nests and practices übereffective buzz pollination (enters a flower and vibrates its body—a lot—to loosen pollen). Tolerates cold weather and rain. Brood nests can be purchased online. Range: North America.

This article was first published in Garden Design March 2011
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