Building A Bee House

Solitary bees are harmless and not aggressive. They rarely, if ever, sting unless trodden on or squashed between your fingers. They do not have painful stings like those of honeybees. They do not live in hives or build honeycombs, and they do not swarm. The mason bee, in particular, is a wonderful little creature. The male cannot sting and the female rarely stings. Different species of Mason Bees will occupy different diameters of tunnels. They will construct a series of 'cells' in each tunnel. In each cell they leave a block of pollen that they have collected from nearby flowers, lay an egg, and wall it up with mud they have collected from the ground nearby. In dry weather be sure to make a small mud patch for them.

Bee houses provide cover and places for bees to raise their young. They are easy and fun to make, or can be purchased commercially from several vendors.

All you need is a wooden box, open on one side, which is then fixed to a sunny fence or wall. You then fill it with blocks of wood or small logs in which you have drilled small holes. A variety of solitary bees will use these tunnels as nest sites. The box does not need to be deeper than 8 in., but it must have a sufficient amount of overhang at the top to keep rain off.

When you drill holes in logs or posts, make sure you include plenty of holes of smaller diameters. If you prefer you can drill these in separate pieces of wood or have a completely separate bee house for them. You will get many different species of small solitary bees using different size holes. You can also purchase commercial bee tubes and place them in your bee house.

You can remove the occupied logs and tubes and keep them in a cold dry place during the winter, to protect them from winter wet. Remember to replace them in the bee house by March. An unheated shed, porch, or carport will do. It is very important that you do not store in a warm place – they need to be cold and dry during the winter. Persistent wind-blown rain can dissolve the mud walls of the cells, and cause both wooden blocks and cardboard bee tubes to rot, and the young bees will succumb to fungus diseases. As autumns and winters can be the rainiest time of the year, you must be sure your bee tubes are protected from the excessive wet. If your bee house has a good overhanging roof and is rainproof you can leave the tubes out side in the elements. Otherwise they must be moved somewhere cold and dry during the autumn and winter. From April on wards, young bees that have over-wintered in a dormant state inside the tunnels will emerge, and start the cycle over again.

Only solitary bees will use the kind of bee house described here. The needs of bumblebees are very different.

Related: Constructing a Rain Garden

(Image:Bees Louise!)

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05.15.13  12:00PM    KAREN B

Categories: backyard habitat,gardening

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