Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Honey Bees vs. Orchard Mason Bees

A Honey Bee & Orchard Mason Bee
Many beekeepers know the benefit their girls play in pollinating their gardens,but your foraging bees are not the only bees that are there to collect pollen. There are a range of native, solitary bees that are just as important as honey bees when it comes to pollination, plus, they require less maintenance and are not as aggressive. So, if you want to invest solely into pollinating your gardens, is it better to keep honey bees or should you rely on the native bee for pollination? Each has their own benefits.

The solitary bees, such as the Mason, are more efficient pollinators than the honey bee if you are comparing bee to bee. Honey bees are attracted to nectar producing flowers and as they travel from flower to flower they indirectly help in pollination. Their main interest is harvesting the sweet nectar these flowers produce. Mason bees on the other hand are pollen collectors. They will gather pollen to take back to their nests. Once the female Mason bee is released she will begin building her nest and collecting pollen to lay with each egg for the duration of her four to six week life span.

Mason bees are solitary and do not require any management until the eggs are harvested, whereas, Honey bee hives require close inspection and monitoring. Mason bees are less aggressive and the startup cost is very minimal. They live independently and are less susceptible to diseases and pests.

Image by John Edwards
The benefit of honey bees are their numbers. Honey bee colonies will consist of tens of thousands of bees and in turn they have a larger field force to help with pollination, making them better pollinators overall. As soon as they are finished with one crop, they can be transported to the next, impacting a larger demographic of pollinating plants. Mason bees will transition to where pollen exists if their current location lacks what is needed, whereas, honey bee's foraging range is larger so they can bring in the resources the colony needs. There is no guarantee the Mason Bee will return to the nesting site to lay for the following year.
Honey bees will forage for nectar and pollen after breaking cluster in spring and will continue until temperatures return to the 50s in the fall. Mason bees have a 4-6 week window for pollinating, after which, the female will seal in the cocoons to develop over winter.

While honey bees continue to play a major role in commercial pollination, both honey bees and mason bees are perfect for backyard gardeners. The importance of bees goes beyond our own farms and gardens. Their reach helps maintain a diversity of ecosystems with many wild plants relying on their pollination to produce seeds, fruits or nuts. These plants form the foundation of the food chain for many birds and other wildlife. Bees are a necessity that we cannot live without.

If you are after pollination in your garden, the answer is to utilize both Mason and Honey Bees.

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