Spring cleaning is underway and if you happen to have some scrap untreated wood, you can get rid of some clutter and do a little something for the environment by building a bee habitat. In particular, if you are a gardener it always helps to have a few extra pollinators around. I’m sure many of you have heard about declining bee populations and the dreaded colony collapse syndrome, so even if you don’t have a garden, this is a DIY Bee Habitat can help protect our native species.
Understandably, I’m sure some you of are already recoiling at the idea of a bunch of bees living in the back yard. I’ve been stung by just about every stinging insect Missouri has to offer so the chance of a bee sting doesn’t bother me. However, my 6-year old will be running around out there, and stings can be pretty traumatic at that age, so I wanted to make sure this was safe. With a little bee knowledge, I was put at ease that stings wouldn’t be an issue.
This type of bee habitat attracts solitary bees only, so as long as you can refrain from attacking the box, the chances of being stung are virtually nil. That being said, if someone in the house has a life threatening allergy to hymenoptera venom, it is probably wise to steer clear of this project.
** Warning: Science Content **
Pollinator Facts – Why should I care about bees?
- At least 75% of all flowering plants require pollinators for reproduction
- Around 1/3 of the world’s food supply is dependent on pollinators
- Honeybees alone contribute about $5 billion to the agricultural production of the United States
- Often overlooked, about 1/2 of the world’s oils and fibers rely on pollinators
- In North America, 80% of the pollination workload is done by bees (hummingbirds, other insects, and small mammals make up the rest)
Bee Facts – You mean Bee Movie wasn’t the whole story?…. Hello Jerry….
- North America has 4000 native species of bees, the majority of which are solitary bees (only the 50 species of bumblebee make true colonies)
- The honey bee is not native to North America, and compared to native species they aren’t that great at pollinating native plants. For instance, honey bees cannot pollinate tomato flowers, so tomatoes require native bees to do so.
- Honey bee hives are also the main victims of colony collapse syndrome. While biologists have yet to confirm a cause, many potential factors have been implicated. However, a non-native species that has been interbred for hundreds of years will lack a number of evolutionary advantages that usually protect against this sort of thing.
- Solitary Bees vs. Colony Bees
- Colony bees have the familiar queen bee that lays hundreds or thousands of eggs, with infertile “sister” bees whose goal is to promote fertility of the queen.
- In solitary bees, every female is fertile and makes her own small nest. She will lay some eggs and usually dies afterward.
- The males will hatch first and immediately seek out females to mate with. Females will grow and eventually find a place to make their own nest
- Sometimes multiple females inhabit one nest and form a communal nest. Each female provides for their own brood, but multiple females are available for defense of the nest.
- Sometimes there will be multiple nests in an area, such as a large log. This is called an aggregation
- Solitary bees are frequently stingless, and those that have stingers rarely use them and do so only in self-defense. For instance, carpenter bees make nests in holes in wood. If you were to hammer a nail in the wood (mimicking a woodpecker), or cut through it, the female bees would defend the nest, and may sting (male carpenter bees are stingless).
For more information about bees and pollinators check out the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation at http://xerces.org.
** End: Science Content **
How to Build the DIY Bee Habitat
There is no one design for this, and your available scrap wood will inform how you proceed. There are characteristics that we want to make sure we include.
- You will want a wood block at least 7 inches deep. Alternatively you can layer together smaller pieces to achieve the same effect. For instance, I had an old 8 foot long 1×12 which I cut into a number of equal sized pieces and stacked and screwed together
- On one side you will want to drill a number of holes making sure not to go all the way through. The bees want one entrance only. Each hole can serve as a nest for one female. Bees come in multiple sizes, so make the holes multiple sizes. The Xerces society recommends spacing your holes about 3/4″ apart and using the following sizes: 3/32″ to 7/32″ holes which should be 3-4″ deep AND 1/4″ to 3/8″ holes which should be 5-6″ deep
- Place a roof to direct rain away from the holes and shield against midday sun.
- Select a location to place it, such as a tree, fence, or stake. The location should have some protection from storms. The holes should face generally east to recieve morning sun. Hang it at least 3 feet off the ground. Curious pets may inadvertently disturb the nest. Kids might think that hitting the box with a stick would make a cool sound (I can totally see Reed doing this). As stated earlier, this is the one situation where a sting might happen, so if you have pets or kids, hang them higher around 6 or 7 feet so the box cannot be disturbed.
I placed mine about 7 feet up on a tree facing east and this position happens to look over my garden.
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