CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I love to learn from my gardening mistakes -- and I'm the first to admit those lessons are frequent! My wonderful friend Cat Wright gave me a new tool for my garden: a mason bee house. Well, I didn't want to hurt my young friend's feelings, but I was a bit confused by the gift.
Here's why. I grew up in a house with a lot of redwood -- soffits, fascia and siding were all redwood. I have a distinct picture in my head of my father lying prostrate on our home's flat roof, 2 1/2 stories above the concrete driveway, leaning out over the edge and swatting bees with a pingpong paddle. They were carpenter bees, and they were boring holes in the wood as fast as he could swing.
Fast-forward to today. My home has a lot of cedar -- soffits, fascia and shakes are all cedar. The carpenter bees are a constant threat to the integrity of our house with their hole-boring habits.
When Cat gave me the bee house, I immediately thought about carpenter bees and wasn't sure if the house was such a great idea.
I was wrong!
According to the agriculture department at the University of Arizona, orchard mason bees are not the same as the destructive carpenter bees.
"Orchard mason bees occur naturally throughout the United States. In nature they nest in beetle galleries in wood. Unlike carpenter bees, mason bees are never destructive to homes or other wooden structures because they do not excavate nest holes themselves. But this means that nest holes may be in short supply. To encourage mason bees you can provide a bee house, the insect equivalent of a birdhouse."
The informative folks at the University of Arizona praise the little orchard mason bee.
"If you have developed an interest in bees, but aren't ready or able to keep honey bees, you might want to try encouraging local native bees as pollinators. Orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria and related species) are native bees that are becoming popular with gardeners and farmers. Mason bees are slightly smaller than honey bees, and are shiny dark blue, almost black in color. These gentle bees are not likely to sting, although they will defend themselves if stepped on or trapped under clothing."
You can buy bee houses or purchase kits from: