Solitary Bees Like These Simple Homes

homes for solitary beesThere’s no place like home for a solitary bee, or so the old saying should go.

While this week in June is set aside as National Pollinator Week, we really should celebrate pollinators every week of the year.

One way to celebrate is to invite bees into your yard with little bee houses.

The simple “insect hotels” in the picture are part of a display at the Denver Botanic Gardens. There’s a wide variety of found materials here — from bricks to dried bamboo stalks to grasses.

“Many of the more than 500 species of bees native to the region use cavities like these to build their solitary nests,” the signage explains.

The display at my house isn’t as elaborate, but I still have plenty of bees. Orchard mason bees are one of the solitary bees that are especially fond of my landscape.

These bees are smaller than honeybees and have a shiny bluish-black color.

The female is a solitary nester and she prefers to lay her eggs in small holes that aren’t much larger than her body.

To attract orchard mason bees to your yard to help with pollination, plant fruit trees, berries and spring-flowering plants. One of the favorites in my garden is a currant bush that a bird must’ve planted there.

It’s important to plant plenty of flowers because I’ve read that orchard mason bees visit over twice as many blossoms in a single day as a honeybee. That’s a lot of pollinating!

These bees typically like to build their nests in small cavities that occur naturally, like in tree holes where borers or birds have done some work.

There are also simple bee boxes you can make to help the orchard mason bees with their nesting.

Most bee boxes are made from a piece of untreated lumber, measuring about 6″ x 6″, cut to about 10 1/2 inches long.

Then a series of 5/16-inch holes, spaced about 1 inch apart, about 3-8 inches deep are drilled on one side of the block only (and not drilled completely through).

The boxes need to be set out by February, attached to a post or building, and situated so they’re facing southeast.

Spring is the time when the female orchard mason bee uses pollen and nectar to fill these holes to provide food for the larvae. One egg is laid in each hole, before she fills the hole with mud and seals it.

The following spring, this brood emerges and the process begins again.

Even though it’s too late for nesting this season, now’s a good time to get started building bee boxes — or collecting materials so you can open your own insect hotel as soon as possible.


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