The A-‘Bee’-C’s of Pollination
Many fruit and vegetable plants rely on pollination in order to produce food. Pollination is the process of transferring pollen from the anther to the stigma. This is done by wind, animals, insects, birds, wasps, bees, etc.
To help with pollination you can attract pollinators to your yard and garden by planting shrubs, trees, perennials and annuals that attract bees, hummingbirds and butterflies. Choose an assortment of different flowering plants with different flower shapes and colours, that bloom at different times so that there will always be a constant source of food supply that will last throughout the season. You can also introduce beneficial pollinators to your garden by purchasing mason bees and housing units for them to reside in. These are available at garden centres.
Mason bees are a type of native North American bee that look similar to a garbage fly. They are blue/black in colour and get their name ‘Mason’ because they create mud walls, similar to a bricklayer or mason. They are a solitary bee that work alone but usually nest in groups. They are nonaggressive and will only sting when provoked. It is only the female that has a stinger and she does not lose it after it has been used, so has the ability to sting more than once. Mason bees are known as great pollinators that work through rain and cool temperatures. It’s been said that it only takes 2-3 female mason bees to pollinate a mature apple tree!
Mason bees nest in holes rather than in a hive. In nature they will nest in tiny holes, hollow stems, tiny crevices etc. They will also nest in purchased housing units. There are different styles to choose from, but basically they consist of wooden blocks with holes drilled in them and hollow straws. Place the nesting unit in a morning sun location (east or southeast) that is protected from the weather, as well as birds and squirrels who will harm them. If there is a problem with predators, a wire mesh cage can be placed in front of the unit. A good location would be the wall of a garage, shed or house, about 1.5-2.5 meters from the ground.
To keep the bees happy ensure that there is some moist mud nearby which is used by the female when she lays her eggs. She lays one egg, then gathers pollen and nectar for the egg, then walls it in with mud. She continues to do the same thing again as she goes along the length of the tube until the tube is full. She can do 1-2 eggs a day. Place the nesting house near a food source that is at least 25% in bloom, when the bees arrive.
Mason bees are available as cocoons. They are refrigerated and should not be released outdoors until temperatures are consistently 13 Celsius or warmer, and their food sources of nectar and pollen are available, such as when the dandelions are blooming. Place cocoons behind or on top of nesting holes. Some of their favourite flowers include the white flowers of fruit trees and berries, snowdrops, yellow flowered black-eyed Susan, Goldenrod, Rudbeckia, Wallflower, Aster. Purple flowered Heliotrope, Lupine, lavender, Coneflower, Wallflower,, crocus and pink flowered asters, azaleas, and wallflowers. A mixed group of early blooming native flowers are ideal. Males emerge first and the females soon follow. If mason bees are happy they will not go far as they do not like to travel. They tend not to go further than 100 meters from their nest.
Having your own bees and nesting house is a great way to help ensure pollination and also a fun project for the family!
Jos Van Hage owns and operates two Art Knapp Home and Garden Centres in Prince George:
- Highway 16 West at Kimball Road
- Highway 97 North at Northwood Pulpmill Road ( Now open for the season!)