She Don’t Need No Man! Miss Independent Bees
…She needs a man for procreation, but she doesn’t want him living with her, junking up her hive.
I used to only believe that there were only a few types of bees. Honey bees, Africanized bees, and these small metallic bees that bathed in the sex juice of one of my orchids. It was only after I saw this poster (above) at a garden center, that I realized there were bees flying around me–my whole life. And to think that I thought all of those flying bugs were evil wasps.
However that poster is not how I became interested in solitary bees.
One summer in 2015, I found these strange cocoons in one of my onion stalks. I thought they were evil pestilence, but before I set them on fire, I did some research. Turns out they were mason bee pupae. I removed the stalk from the garden and set it on my workbench to shelter during winder. By spring the pupae had all emerged and they left nothing but dried mud and the husk of an onion stalk. I was instantly intrigued!
Keeping Solitary Bees (Mason Bees)
To save me the effort of explaining all about Solitary Bees, I want you to watch these two videos:
Solitary bees naturally inhabit the decayed holes of wood boring beetles and barren bits of land. (source) Which may be why most of the kits use wood trays or tubes as nesting material. This all sounds complicated but solitary bee keeping can be entirely effortless (if you don’t harvest the cocoons) or a whole extra adventure (collecting, cleaning and selling the sleeping pupae).
If you are as stretched for time as I am, you can buy pre-made Solitary Mason bee houses:
You can make your own bee shelter and fill the shelter with paper tubes that you make yourself. If you’ve run out of box wine motivations, you can also use premade paper straws.
Here are some tips when it comes to Solitary Mason Bee shelters
- Leafcutter bees like holes closer to 6mm (less than ¼ inch)
- Mason bees are larger and like holes closer to 8mm (⅜ inch)
- Face the opening of the bee shelter pointing Southeast. The morning light will warm the bees up sooner, giving them a head start on their pollination activities.
- Hang the bee shelter 6 feet up off the ground. If the shelter is light enough, this is a simple task. This height, reduces ambient shadows from neighboring plants and minimises predation by cats, and any other creature that bites me. So… horses! Hanging the bee shelter at 6 feet prevents horses named Wilbur from eating the bees.
Knowing how to measure is how I’ve earned most of my jobs.
At this point, I’d like to confess something. I didn’t believe that these mason bee houses worked, because I never saw any bees use my bee shelters. I had it up for a year and nothing! It was only after my husband told me that I had placed the bee shelter in the wrong spot, facing the wrong direction, and at too close to Wilbur and his cat minions. Once I changed spots, and heights, I started to notice signs of the bees using the shelter.
This is the easiest part, feeding native bees with native plants. I’m going to make this easy for my Texas fans, SeedSource.com is based in Junction, TX. This past fall I ordered a bunch of live root plants and I put them all over my yard. So far all the plants are looking like they might give me some awesome blooms this summer. That is why I’d like to recommend this company for seeding your yard with wildflowers this year
- Shade-Friendly Wildflower Mix, D-pak. – $19.00 (D-pak per 750 sf)
- Native Texas Mix, Dpak – $25.00, (Dpak per 700 sq ft)
- Plant-in-Spring or Fall – All Perennial Mix, Dpak – $29.00 (Dpak per 300 sq ft)
SeedSource.com has many more seeds for your yard. Support local growers, and local wildlife. ***No! They don’t give me free seeds for mentioning them.
This might be the hardest part of supporting any wild pollinator. Access to water in a state that is riddled with droughts seems impossible. If you use drip irrigation in your yard, just place some saucers under a few of the drip emitters and let the saucers overfill each day. This trick is also useful for watering birds. Otherwise you just have to fill a tray with marbles and set it out in the part-shade. Refill the tray with water as it runs dry. That being said, nature appreciates consistency. The more consistent the water source, the more consistency you will see in your visitors.
With your persistance a few muddy puddles (or plant saucers filled with muddy water) will provide solitary bees (and their friends) access to water and mud that they can use to in their nests.
Food for Thought…
With diligent husbandry and care, you can harvest the pupae of these short lived bees and sell them to for their highly efficient pollinating abilities. Although, you might not get any honey from them, at roughly $0.25-1.00 per bee, this might be more lucrative than my other business venture of “mittens for squirrels”. I just thought that I’d mention this, since there are over 4000 species of native solitary bees in the US. Chances are, you probably have a gold-mine near you just waiting for you to plant more native flowers. Then all you need are the houses to collect the pupae from, and some friends to buy the pupae.
Solitary Bee Links
- How to identify different types of bees
- Native bees in Texas
- Everything You Need to Know Before Keeping Mason Bees
- Mason Bee Micro Documentary (a little dry, but informative)
- Growing a Greener World Episode 1008: Bringing Nature Home
- The Bees in Your Backyard (recommended by Beekeeper Ryan Giesecke)