Our garden club theme this year is on Pollinators, of which we have covered Bats, Hummingbirds, and Bees. They are all fascinating, but as I prepared for the bee unit, I learned many things I didn’t know.
There are solitary bees and social bees. The social bees are the ones everyone seems to talk about. You know, they are the bees that live in “hives”, like honey bees. They all have specific jobs and if the jobs aren’t done, the hive is put at risk for not surviving. My students, composed of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders, knew a little bit about social bees. They knew there was a “queen”, drones, and worker bees. They knew, partially because of previous discussions, that we need bees to pollinate flowers so we have a variety of foods. One in every three bites of food is due to bee pollination! Wow! Essentially, without bees, our diet would not amount to much or be very colorful or interesting.
What both the students and I learned, however is that solitary bees, such as the Mason Bee or Orchard Bee, are better pollinators than honey bees! Up to 200x better! This was information I could use as we have a home fruit orchard featuring 30 trees in several varieties of fruit: apples, cherries, plums, pears, & blueberries. With the exception of the blueberries, the fruit trees are all planted in one area on the north side of our yard. Some year’s we have had a robust harvest, once making 40 gallons of homemade cider and still having apples galore for other treats, as well as fresh-picked, out of hand eating. Plums that year were also bountifully produced and conducive to homemade baked goods, jams, dehydration, and of course, more eating and, lots of sharing with friends and neighbors.
Over the years, I’ve learned how mother nature works with the fruit trees. Last year, we harvested barely any fruit. But, we had a frost and freeze just after the bloom on the trees and lost most of the blossoms – hence, very little fruit. This has happened before, on occasion. Freezing and frosting, too much rain, or wide swings in temperature are things we can do little about in a small home fruit orchard.
But, we can try to do something about pollination! So, this year I was planning to order a Mason Bee House from Gardener’s Supply catalog. Just before I ordered, I saw some of these structures at our local branch of a large garden/hardware store. Orchard Bee houses were for sale for less than $13.00! We bought two, without hesitation. Before hanging them in the garden, I took one to garden club to show my students. They are still somewhat confused between social and solitary bees and I thought this might help. You can easily see it is not meant for a hive!
Over the weekend, my husband hung them in our orchard. It is not the ideal place for the houses, but it will have to do. Hopefully, providing a home for the solitary Mason Bees we hope to attract will help our fruit tree pollination this year. In any case, we are helping the bees. Maybe, they will help us back.