Hurray for the superheroes of the pollinating world – our native bees! From tiny sweat bees to mason and leafcutting bees to fuzzy bumblebees and more, there is an amazing variety of species. Native bees are extremely efficient pollinators, too. Consider, for example, the 250 female orchard mason bees needed to pollinate an entire acre of apple trees, or the 300 needed to pollinate an acre of almond trees, compared to the many thousands of honeybees that it takes to do an equivalent job. Wow!
Most native bees are solitary — rather than building a hive, they stay focused on one job: collecting pollen for their nests. Bumblebees, however, do gather socially — their colony size is only about 50 to 200, though, in contrast to the thousands of honeybees that form a single colony. Female native bees are the pollinators, zipping from plant to plant to collect pollen. Then they seek out a nest spot to lay their eggs. Depending on the species, this might be a tunnel in the ground, a cavity in a tree, a rock crevice, or a snag hole created by a beetle. About thirty percent of our native bees are wood-nesters, including mason bees, leafcutter bees, and carpenter bees.
Whether it’s winter, spring, summer, or fall, it’s a great time to be thinking about ways to provide an inviting habitat to attract native bees. Having a sustainable wildlife habitat is the first step, of course — one filled with a diversity of pollen- and nectar-producing flowers. Strive to provide native blooms throughout as much of the year as possible. Don’t forget about wildflowers, and consider letting friendly “weeds” such as dandelion have a place in your garden. And, of course, avoid all pesticides!
An easy way to help our native wood nesters is to provide bee boxes in which the females can lay their eggs. Bee boxes in their simplest form are untreated wood blocks with holes drilled into them. Use a variety of hole diameters from 2mm to 10mm to benefit a range of bee species. You don’t need to buy wood — a log or untreated scrap block around the house or yard would work just fine.
Another easy bee box can be made from bamboo reeds — beautiful and functional! In the one below, we created a simple frame to contain the reeds, then selected a variety of reed diameters to fill the frame.
The females will lay their eggs, along with pollen, in a series of cells created from mud. When they are ready, the young bees will emerge.
Have fun with your bee box designs — just make sure the material is safe and the holes are the approximate diameters native bees need.
What are some ways to help the ground nesters? Consider leaving some bare patches of ground, and avoid using plastic weed-block or overdoing mulch. You can also create special pits of sand or sandy loam just for the bees, or even raised beds.
Here’s a fun fact I discovered while doing a bit of research — many native bees are attracted to the color blue! I’m already thinking about ways to get more blue in my garden.
By the way, for a great series of photos and more info about native bees, “bee” sure to visit team author Gail’s Clay and Limestone blog. I just happened to visit her site today and discovered she’s been doing a series of bee posts there with some fantastic close-ups of native bees. Dare I say that she’s been bzzzzzy? Great job, Gail! :)
Bee Ready! Spring will be here before you know it!
Meredith O’Reilly gardens for wildlife in Austin, Texas, and writes about her garden adventures at Great Stems.
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