Bees have long been known as the angels of agriculture. They provide honey and beeswax, and pollinate wildflowers and crops, including the really great stuff like blueberries and apricots and almonds and melons. Bees are small creatures that carry a heavy load. Their cross-pollination is essential to at least 30% of the world’s crops and 90% of our wild plants. It’s likely you are most familiar with Apis mellifera, social hive-making honeybees—imported to the U.S. from Europe centuries ago and now workhorses for a $15 billion business.
But surprisingly, 90% of wild bees are not social, and most likely you don’t think much about them. They live alone and lay just a few eggs in a lifetime. They are solitary bees. Some solitary bees are ground nesting, and some make nests in pre-existing cavities such as hollow twigs and stems, holes in old trees or wood, or abandoned mouse holes, woodpecker holes, seashells or insect burrows. Each one needs its very own room. They are not destructive insects. They do not excavate holes in wood. They merely clean out loose debris from these cavities. Since they do not defend a stockpile of little darlings, most of these shy solitary native bees are sweet, harmless and not aggressive. They rarely if ever sting unless trodden, squashed between your fingers, or trapped between your flip-flop and your foot. Yowch!
These small bee-ings have the same basic needs as humans—food and a healthy living environment. And yet many of them find it increasingly difficult to find a place to call home. To celebrate Earth Day this month (April 20th!), let’s encourage solitary bees and provide a seasonal nesting site for them—a sort of bee apartment complex. You can make a bee nursery, or Bee Block, using only a drill and a small log. The Bee Block can be used as a seasonal bee nursery for nine months as eggs develop through a larval stage into adulthood.
Using a drill, make holes in untreated scrap timber or logs. Drill a selection of varying diameters between about ¼ inch and ½ inch, but no larger. Holes drilled ¼ inch or smaller should be 2 to 5 inches deep. Holes larger than ¼ inch should be deeper than 5 inches. Use sandpaper to smooth any splinters and rough edges. Remove any sawdust from the holes and position the log holes facing outward.
The ideal bee block location is on the south or east side of a building—a spot that faces the morning sun. It should be sheltered somewhat from the rain—either add an overhanging “roof” of wood, or place the coop under the eaves of a building. And, blocks containing dormant bee pupae should be brought into a shed or barn for protection during the winter and then placed outside again in early spring.
This Bee Block is the bee’s knees!
Marcie Cuff lives in Irvington and is the author of the blog Mossy. She is also the author of the book “This Book Was a Tree” by Perigee, an imprint of Penguin Books. For more hands-on projects like this, visit http://mossymossy.com.