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Originally published Friday, June 25, 2010 at 4:00 PM

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Create a simple house for orchard mason bees

Here's how to build a bee house. Plus, bee tips and web links to more information about bees and pollinator-friendly plants.

Daily Press (Newport News, Va

Bees need us and we need them.

In your yard, plant a succession of spring, summer and fall flowering plants so bees have a continual source of nectar.

In return, they help pollinate plants in our home vegetable gardens and farm fields.

To further help bees, create simple houses for orchard mason bees. .

Orchard mason bees, smaller than a honey bee and a shiny dark blue in color, do not live in a nest like other bees. They live in wooden blocks but do not drill holes and destroy things like some bees. Instead, the bees use holes that are already available. The male orchard mason bee cannot sting and the female rarely stings.

Here's how to build a bee house, according to the National Wildlife Federation:

Drill it. With drill bits of various sizes, 5/16 of an inch works best for an orchard mason bee, simply take some scrap lumber and drill holes 3 to 5 inches deep but not all the way through the wood block. For example, get a 4-inch square piece of wood and drill holes that are 3 ½ inches deep.

Protect it. Cover the holes with chicken wire to help keep birds away from the bee house.

Place it. Securely place the bee house on the south side of buildings, fence posts or trees.

Then scatter some of the houses through your community.

Bee house tips:

• Do not move bee houses after they are in place until at least November.

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• Do not spray strong insecticides on or around bee houses.

• If you build your own bee house, do not use treated wood.

To help pollinators:

• Reduce the use of pesticides or, if possible, stop using them altogether. If you must use an insecticide, apply it in the evening, when many pollinators are inactive.

• Plant native, nectar-producing flowers. Go to http://pollinator.org/guides.htm and type in your Zip code to receive information about pollinators in your area, plus a list of pollinator plants.

• Leave tree stumps, dead branches and rotting trees on your property, if possible. They provide nests for some species of bees.

• When a bee nest is too close to your home, don't destroy it. Contact a local beekeeper or your cooperative extension service to learn how to remove it without harming the bees.

To learn more about bees and other pollinating insects, visit www.fws.gov/pollinators and www.pollinator.org.

You can buy a premade orchard mason bee house at some garden centers and through mail-order sites such as Planet Natural at www.planetnatural.com.

Kathy Van Mullekom is gardening columnist and writer of the weekly Diggin' In column at the Daily Press in Newport News, Va. Contact her: www.dailypress.com/digginblog or kvanmullekom@dailypress.com

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