Your Own Air Bee & Bee
Can you imagine a world without bees? Maybe – but you’d also have to imagine a world without much of the food we enjoy, including almonds, apples, blueberries and carrots. Bees are responsible for one in three bites of food we take.
There are more than 4,000 species of native bees in North America, and one in four species is at risk of extinction. Unlike honeybees, 90% of native bees don’t live in colonies or build hives. Most live underground, and the others nest in tree holes or hollow, broken stems. They have short life spans and don’t want a long “commute” from their homes to the plants they use for food. These native bees – also called wild or solitary bees – are generally mild-mannered and come in many different colors. They provide a lovely show as well as the useful work of pollinating your fruit trees, vegetables and flowers.
One way we can all try to attract native bees is by providing a bee house, also called a bee hotel. You’ve probably seen the charming constructions online or at your local nursery. Bee houses are nesting boxes for native bees, usually a wooden frame containing bundles of tubes or “apartments.” They’re relatively easy to make and inexpensive to buy. You provide the tubes, and the bees will use mud, leaves and other material to build walls and divide the tunnel into a series of small, sealed cells. Each cell is left with a lump of pollen and an egg. Bee houses should be placed in an area that is relatively free from buffering winds and has some protection from rain.
The easiest bee house is a bundle of sticks, hollow reeds or bamboo, tied together and placed where bees can find them. You can also welcome native bees by drilling holes partway through a tree stump or wooden block. Place paper straws in the holes that can be pulled out, cleaned or replaced. A purchased bee house may have the advantage of being easier to maintain, and some even have observation windows where you can observe progress in the nests.
You’ll likely attract some wasps as well as bees, but solitary wasps are also great pollinators and aren’t known for aggression. Place bee houses in a location facing southeast to get morning sun. Elevate it about 4 to 5 feet above the ground and firmly attach it to a post, building or tree.
Bee houses need maintenance, including cleaning or replacing the tubes, checking for predators, moisture and signs of disease. And of course, the bees need a varied diet from your nearby pollinator garden to enjoy.