For folks across the country, September heralds the change of season. Hot summer days are replaced with pleasant temperatures and cooler evenings. Leaves are showing the first blush of fall color. Warm season crops such as peppers and tomatoes are still producing. And the bees foraging in the garden are making a final push to gather nectar and pollen before the weather turns cold. But with all the buzzing going on, are you noticing other types of bees?
While folks may recognize a honey bee, what about the other insects that seem to be on the plants collecting pollen. Do you know what they are? Folks, many of these insects are what as known as native bees (the common honey bee was originally imported from Europe). These bees were here before the introduction of honey bees. Another term use for native bees is solitary bees or even pollen bee.
These bees are just as important to pollination as honey bees. But what makes them stand apart from the honey bees (besides NOT producing honey) is their solitary lifestyle. What this means is that they are not a hive insect, living in the same hive or nest as others of their kinds. In other words, they live alone. Please note that there are a few exceptions where solitary bees may share a nest with others, but they do not assist the other bees in the same nest. Each bee is responsible for themselves.
These solitary or pollen bees seek out shelter. Some species prefer to nest in the ground, but the others search for a cavity in which to nest. Examples could be a hole left in a tree trunk left by a burrowing insect, a hollow plant stem such as a reed or bamboo. But if you don’t have that type of plant material in your area, you can actually create a home for the cavity bee. One common cavity bee is the Mason bee.
There are commercially produced bee ‘hotels’ available on the market. A classic shape is the tear-drop model with hollow reeds acting as the individual hotel rooms. This is model can be hung from a tree or from a building and is in the $15 – $22 price range. However, if you are willing to get your hands dirty, you can build your own bee hotels with found, reclaimed, repurposed, or recycled materials.
If you choose to create your own bee hotel, a simple route to go is to create a frame out of scrap lumber. The dimensions are up to you. But as you build the bee hotel, keep in mind where you are going to place it on your property. If you intend to hang it from a tree, go with a smaller design that will not bend or break the branch of the intended tree. Free-standing models are popular for larger creations. As you construct the hotel, use a variety of materials. A few old bricks lying around that have holes in them? Place those inside the wooden frame. Feel free to use hollow wooden dowels that you cut to size to fit inside the bee hotel with the hollow ends facing outward (for easy access by the bees).
In the photo below, materials found in nature are also incorporated into the hotel. This model has pine needles, pine cones, and some moss in addition to cut lengths of bamboo and brick. Bees can crawl amongst these items and pull in additional material to create their desired cavity.
The hotels are easy to construct with just a few simple tools: drill with bit (to drill holes into short lengths of wood), saw (to cut wood into lengths for the desired size), hammer and nails or drill and screws based on how you want to hold the lumber together. Feel free to cut lengths of bamboo or reed (the key is to select something hollow) or you can make the holes by drilling into pieces of wood. Use what you have on hand including some natural materials such as pine cones and pine needles.
Whether you cal them solitary bees, native bees, or cavity bees, they are great pollinators. Since they seek out cavities to create a nest, make a bee hotel yourself. By providing a bee hotel, you are encouraging solitary bees to nest on your property. Feel free to use materials you have on hand and incorporate some natural materials as well. (A simple hotel can be created in under an hour). More solitary bees in your garden can mean higher pollination which can lead to higher fruit and vegetable yields. Remember, these bees need a place to live as well.