Spring cleaning the mason bee homes

The buds have started to swell and even show green on the orchard trees, so our thoughts and conversations have been turning to pollinators. We've had experience keeping honeybees, but we hear that the native mason bees are not only lower maintenance, but they pollinate far better. For well-pollinated trees (which equals a bigger crop), foregoing fresh honey isn't so bad. As things happen on Pender, we recently met a lovely couple who raise mason bees and were able to give us a good deal on two hundred bees and two handmade bee-homes in exchange for scrubbing last year's nesting trays (top photos). As Lester informed us, mite infestations are the biggest problem when keeping mason bees, and a decent annual wash of both trays and the overwintering bee cocoons (bottom left) is essential.    

Those grey cocoons are baby mason bees that will now be stored in our refrigerator until the apple trees bloom. As Mae and Lester explained, mason bees--as opposed to the long-ranging honeybees--like to stay closer to home and have about a 350 meter foraging range. This makes them ideal for small orchards like ours, and ensures that they won't spend the most part of their days pollinating the neighbor's garden rather than our apples blossoms!