My husband made a new nesting box for our expanding solitary/native/mason bee population. This box holds a total of over 400 nesting straws, in 6 large cans. I found that large pineapple juice cans are just the right size for the nesting straws. This one box actually holds more nesting straws than all three of my previous nesting boxes from last year combined, yet it's much easier to maintain and clean.
The chicken wire front keeps out woodpecker and squirrel predators. We can make a second identical box if need be, and hang it directly below this one. A second box may not be necessary this year. I anticipate that my immediate neighborhood would likely not support more mason bees than two of these boxes could possibly house- there is a limit to the local food/pollen supply after all. Honeybees can travel several miles for forage, but little solitary bees only forage a few hundred yards from their home base, thus their population is self-limiting based on the food supply in any given area.
In a few days I'll be putting the chilled dormant cocoons from last year out to emerge right next to this new nesting box. I'm just waiting until a few more flowers are blooming. It's a very early Spring here, but the fruit trees are still not flowering. Right now my 2011 cocoons containing new adult bees are still sleeping safely in my refrigerator veggie crisper drawer. It's almost time for emergence!
But there are mason bees out there already- a couple of days ago I was planting pea and spinach seed in my vegetable garden, and several male mason bees kept landing on my periwinkle blue skirt, apparently mistaking me for a giant morning glory. They were either horn-faced or blue orchard males. They were so sweet, but I felt a little sorry for them since not much is blooming yet. Obviously they were local wild bees who had emerged a bit early due to the unusually warm weather. It's quite possible that some of those bees will find this box and start using it before my refrigerated bees are put out to emerge and mate. Some of the straws have paper liners that carry the scent of last year's nesting activities, and that's a powerful lure to any nearby mason bees looking for nesting sites.
I really look forward to seeing this new elegant box bustle with nesting bees!