We’re lucky enough to have a lot of wildlife surrounding us, to which we’ve obviously added our own collection of creatures. A few years ago I was looking at ways of encouraging insects and suchlike to populate our orchard areas especially. This was before the trees were even planted, but I thought it best to start the process early. When we first bought the place there was a huge modern(ish) barn which we were told we needed to knock down as part of our planning permission. As a result of removing it., and it’s concrete floor, we had a large area of bare earth, most of which was to become the orchard.
While looking at the various insect encouragement techniques, from wild-flower seeds to Ladybird houses, I discovered some bee houses, and that some bees are solitary. I had considered getting a bee hive – and still occasionally do – but I wasn’t quite ready, and was a bit worried about being stung. But I do think bees are a positive thing, and in the course of my readings found out about the Red and Blue Mason bees. They, like a large number of bee species, don’t form hives or produce honey, but they do pollinate flowers. According to some of their proponents they are actually far better at pollinating than honey bees, though I haven’t tested that assertion myself. Nonetheless they sounded very useful, and even better I could buy a nest which would encourage them to come and visit. Which I duly did.
The nest is an open ended cylinder which contains a whole set of tubes, each of which is the perfect diameter for the bee to create a chamber and lay an egg and provide it with pollen. The tube would slowly be filled with these chambers over the course of the spring. It was possible to buy two sizes, one for the Red Mason bee, and one for the Blue Mason bee which is slightly smaller and so has smaller tubes. I bought a red mason bee one as a start.
The first year we had it I think three of the tubes were filled, which was disappointing, but a start. The second year it had a few more tubes filled, but fell into the mud over the winter, so not all the tubes released new bees the following spring. The third year we still only had a few tubes filled. It is possible to replace the tube liners to make them nice and clean, but I decided it wasn’t much point – clearly these bees weren’t going to hang out with us.
Then last week I was walking past the nest and noticed that all the holes were filled! I have no idea what we did right this year, but next spring we’re going to have a whole host of Red Mason bees, who will have spent the winter in these nice comfy surroundings (note the use of baler twine to keep it in place!):