Bee Prepared!

15 May

Become a beginner beekeeper this year by building a happy little bee hotel in your garden. It’s cheap, educational, great for our ecosystem, and fun!

If you’ve been to Green Plate Special, you might have noticed this small multi-colored house tied to one of our bean/pea trellises. This luxurious suite is home to two of our garden celebrities: mason bees and leafcutter bees. What are those, you ask? Why, only some of the most gentle and gifted pollinators of North America! Both are solitary hole-nesting bees, which means they do not construct hives or live in colonies but rather they live alone in small nests constructed in pre-existing holes in wood (not to be confused with carpenter bees, which carve their own holes).

They are very friendly creatures; they’re so busy working on their nests and collecting food for their young that they don’t really bother with aggressively defending their homes. In fact, you might even see a bee lazily wander into one of its neighbor’s nests on accident only to realize its mistake and casually wander back out. Life is peaceful within mason/leafcutter bee communities.

They areĀ excellent pollinators. One mason bee pollinates as many flowers as one-hundred honey bees! While honey bees softly land on flowers and collect pollen paste in small pockets on their rear legs, mason/leafcutter bees full-on FLOP onto flowers and cover their bellies (abdomens) in dry, loose pollen. This means that they gratuitously dust each bloom they visit.

There are a couple differences between the mason bees and leafcutter bees:

  • Mason bees emerge in early spring and prefer to build their nests in 8mm holes with mud and clay.
  • Leafcutters emerge in summer and prefer to build their nests in 6mm holes with leaves.

So… How do we encourage these sweet little critters to live in our garden? We make it easy for them by offering an inviting space for them to inhabit!

Pictured above: Em (GPS program educator) introduces Madrona 3rd graders to Green Plate Special mason bees.

There are many different places to buy mason/leafcutter bee houses. We purchased ours fromĀ Crown Bees, but different companies offer their own versions! It’s also simple to make your own if you have the right tools and a little time. To build your own you will need…

  • A block of untreated wood at least 8 inches long (to drill the nest holes into – height and width varied depending upon how many nesting spots you want to create)
    • Make sure it isn’t cedar, which is a natural insect repellent!
  • A drill with a 5/16-inch drill bit (to drill the nest holes)
  • A scrap of wood to act as an overhang OR a larger container that the bee house can be placed into (to protect the nest holes from rain)
  • Wood glue
  • Hardware cloth (to protect the nest holes from birds)
  • Staple gun (to attach the hardware cloth to the bee house)
  • Paint/markers (to mark the entrance of the nest holes so bees can find them)
  • L brackets (to hang the bee house)

1. Drill your nest holes into your block of untreated wood, about 6 inches deep. Make sure not to drill all the way through the back of the wood – eggs are laid at the back of the nest, so you want to make sure they’re protected! If you’re concerned about drilling too deep you can use a small piece of electrical tape to mark the stopping point on your drill bit. Avoid putting more than 25 holes in one house; it can confuse the bees!

2. Bang out the leftover sawdust

3. Glue the makeshift roof/overhang to the top of the house to keep it protected from rain, or place it inside a larger container

4. Paint or draw small, colorful, simple shapes above each of the holes using nontoxic materials. The brighter the color, the better – yellows, pinks, and blues are especially visible. This will help the bees orient themselves and locate their personal nest

5. Staple the hardware cloth to the front of the house, protruding slightly, to prevent birds from pecking out eat bee larvae

6. Hang the house! Screw the l-brackets into the bottom of the bee house and the desired wall. Place it in a sunny, southeast facing position in a bit of shade. Make sure it’s at least 4 feet off the ground to avoid water splashing into the nests when it rains

To make your new bees (and many other native creatures) extra happy be sure to grow an abundance of native flowering plants in your garden.