Mason Bees, and Mizuna, sums up a large part of my afternoon in the garden yesterday.

We first brought Mason Bees to the farm a couple of years ago.

We installed a Mason Bee Habitat, and purchased cocooned bees in 2010

This is their third year hatching in the garden here.  For the first two seasons we mostly saw evidence of Mason Bees, rather than the bees themselves. We’d see the tubes hatched out in spring, and new tubes filled in by early summer, showing the bees were active.

As they’re somewhat shy, and elusive, compared to some of the other bees here, we’d very rarely notice them in the garden.  Occasionally we’d see a glint of blue on a flower, but more often than not, it was merely a fly.[1]

Common blue-colored flies are often mistaken for Mason Bees. Note though, this fly has red eyes

As we only started with 2 tubes of bees (approximately 6 females and 6 males) it’s taken a while for them to build up much population here.

Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria) - click any image to enlarge

Last season we had 3 tubes hatch out, and by the end of the season we had 8 full tubes walled up ready for this spring.

Yesterday I found this female in one of the new tubes, undoubtedly laying eggs for next spring

So far this year it’s been a strange ‘spring’.  We seemed to have more spring in January, which was quite warm and dry, compared to March which has been damp, no, downright wet, and occasionally cold.

The fruit trees bloomed early, and somewhat erratically, and it seems our Mason Bees hatched a little late, and erratically too.

Five of eight filled tubes have not hatched this spring

Of those 8 tubes filled last season, so far only three have hatched.  I expect something may have gone awry, but with our highly changeable weather, I’m giving the bees the benefit of the doubt before inspecting the unhatched tubes more closely.

Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria). Note the dark colored eyes.

Last week I actually helped a male Mason bee that had hatched behind a female pupa that wasn’t yet ready to emerge.  If you read our last Mason Bee post, you know that usually the eggs destined to be males are laid closer to the entrance, as they hatch before the females.

Each tube contains multiple cocooned bees, with males preferentially laid closer to the exit than the females

This was a tube of pupae that was accidentally mailed to us when we ordered a second Mason Bee habitat this winter.  We suspect this habitat, along with the tube of bees, was used for demonstration purposes at a class, like the one we’d taken a few years ago, and the tube of cocooned bees was inadvertently left inside the container.  We didn’t notice the tube of bonus bees for a few days, so we weren’t sure if they were still viable, but we placed the tube in the habitat just in case.  when I checked the tube last week I found one poor upside down male, stuck, unable to exit the tube due to a rather rotund female pupa blocking the door.

This female never hatched, and was blocking the male from exiting the tube

I’m glad I checked, and was able to send him on his way.

This is a male Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria), determined by the cream colored patch on his face

Despite only three tubes (plus our partial bonus tube of bees) hatching so far this season, the Mason Bees have actually been much more noticeable in the garden this year.  Perhaps this is because there are more bees, or maybe it’s because there are more blooms in the vegetable garden…courtesy of my lax gardening so far this spring.

These Mizuna greens have bolted, but the beneficial insects are relishing the flowers

The goats have helped us to drift off our gardening schedule, but I have succeeded in exercising some discipline recently, and do have trays, and trays, and trays of seedlings started.  Everything is just a couple of weeks behind schedule. As such, the Komatsuna, Arugula, and especially the volunteer mighty Mizuna, are blooming up a storm at the moment, as I don’t feel compelled to pull them until I have transplants to replace them with.

The males were clearly enjoying nectaring on the Mizuna blooms

I can’t complain, there’s not a lot blooming here at the moment, and honestly the Mizuna is putting on quite a show, both for us, and the bees!

I learned something yesterday too.  Mizuna blossoms have an abolutely heavenly aroma, especially when they bloom as profusely as this ONE plant is!

We didn't even plant this Mizuna, it was a volunteer from last year

As I was standing, ogling the hoards of pollinators on the flowers, I couldn’t figure out where the sweet perfume was coming from.  I looked around, and only found a few scant native poppies blooming, along with some rosemary.  Then, leaning in to take these photographs, I realized the fragrance was the Mizuna!  Who knew?!

The bees quickly buzzed from flower to flower, which made them quite difficult to photograph

I have never noticed any bolted vegetable to have such a pleasing fragrance in the garden, and honestly, the mass of blooms at the moment is more spectacular than anything else in bloom in the vegetable garden.  Perhaps it’s the perfume from these unassuming flowers that has been luring the Mason Bees too.  Whatever it is, this plant was teaming with life yesterday, and finally gave me a chance to really watch these docile bees up close.  Close enough to see the three dorsal ocelli, light-sensing organs, on the top of this male’s head.

If you look closely, you can see the three ocelli (light sensing organs) on the top of this bee's head

We’ll keep watching to see if any of the remaining tubes hatch out in the next few weeks.

Last year all the bees hatched by the first week of March

If not, we’ll post about our findings when we examine them more closely, and hope that this female at least is laying lots of healthy eggs.

Female Mason Bee provisioning her nest yesterday afternoon

Speaking of bees, we’re off to check the honeybees, especially the Rosemary hive that was split from the Salvia colony a month ago, and weather permitting, we’ll finally split Lavender this afternoon too!  It’s all abuzz around here this week!


[1] For tips on telling the difference between bee and fly species in the garden, see The Great Sunflower Project’s ‘How to Tell a Bee article.