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January 2018
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Raising Gentle Bees for your Backyard

Today’s entry is a guest post by Dave Hunter from www.crownbees.com

Honey bees are having challenges today with Colony Collapse Disorder, pesticides, global weather changes, nasty mites and a few more
maladies.   I’m sure you’ve read much of this bad news in recent years.  Although scientists are working feverishly to help this wonderful bee, their numbers continue to decrease.

You need pollination for your fruit trees and garden.  In addition to raising your own food, you can easily raise native bees as well.

In this article,you’ll learn about:

  • The bee kingdom and why many of the bees are gentle
  • A bit about solitary bee life spans
  • What bees are available to pollinate
  • Spring mason bees and what you need to raise them

The bee kingdom has both social and solitary bees.

The bee kingdom has two different types of bees;  social (honey  bees, bumble bees), and solitary (where every female is a queen and they assume all duties. )

The bee kingdom lives in three types of environments; hives they create (honey bees, paper wasps), holes in the ground  (bumble bees, miner bees) and holes in trees & reeds (mason bees, leaf cutters).  There are over 4,000 species of bees, hornets, and wasps in north america!

In general, social bees, hornets, and wasps work in a community where each has their own job.  Where we get in trouble is with the hive
defenders.  “Protect the queen & our babies” is their rallying cry!  And stinging occurs…

The solitary bee, on the other hand, has no workers and little to defend.  If she guarded her nest, she wouldn’t be able to gather pollen.  As a result, it’s EXTREMELY hard to get stung by a solitary bee!  When your hand or head gets in the way of her hole, she simply hovers, goes around you, or flies away to find her hole later.  Read more about mason bee characteristics.

Working bees don’t live that long

Most all bees only live about 5-6 weeks.  Their wings can only flap so many times before they wear out.

Social queen bees constantly produce bees all season long.

Solitary female bees live in specific times of the year.  They tend to emerge when their “heat cues” tell them to wake up.  For example, the spring mason bees come out when the temperatures are around 55˚ F (13˚C).  These bees are designed to pollinate fruit trees and early berries (like the blueberry).  They’ve laid their last egg by early June when later berries are in bloom.  Leafcutter bees emerge when it’s much warmer in July.  Read more about the spring mason bee’s life cycle.
Think through what plants you want to pollinate

  • Fruit and nuts (spring)
  • Berries (early summer)
  • Gardens (mid-summer)

There are hundreds of solitary bee species that may be around you emerging in different growing seasons.

The spring mason bee, (blue orchard and hornfaced bees in North America) is one of the easiest bees to raise. Much is known about how best to raise these gentle bees.  Start raising these bees this season and gradually begin to learn about others in your yard.

If you have time and a bit of money, there are multiple honey bee associations near you that would love to help you get started raising honey bees.

Simple requirements to raise spring mason bees

You are introducing bees to your yard.  By doing so, there are a few items needed for success.  Read through this list… it’s pretty short!

  • Spring pollen in your yard.  Fruit or nut trees, big leaf maples, rhododendrons, dandelions, or pretty much any pollen around.  These bees are not choosy!  You’re a gardener and should already have pollen in your yard.
  • Nesting material to lay pollen in for nesting.  Mason bees nest in available holes about 1/4-5/16” (7-8mm) wide and about 4-7” deep.  Try to provide natural material like paper tubes, reeds, or wood trays.  Anything that can be opened later for inspection during harvest.  (Not drilled blocks of wood!)
  • A house to keep the nesting material dry.  Small, square, diamond, or raindrop shaped.  The choice is yours.  Read more where to optimally place the mason bee house.
  • Mud to separate her eggs.  Spring mason bees need clayey mud that is moist.  Read more.
  • A bit of love and care.  It’s quite easy to do this when you’re able to get so close to these bees!
  • Fall harvest.  Just like you need to change the oil in your car, you should harvest your cocoons in the fall.  This helps you separate the pests from your hibernating bees.
  • Finally, something to remind you.  Crown Bees has Bee-Mail that helps you remember when to do what. We abhor spam as well and only provide you monthly reminders on what your mason bees should be doing, what you should be doing, and what is coming next.  A bit of science news is included as well.

You know much about your soil and plants.  We encourage you to learn about the native pollinators of your yard.  You’ll be surprised how gentle bees can be.  You can purchase spring mason bees and other products now until sources are sold out.
Be very cautious about buying the right bees.  Western bees should not be bought for east-of-the-Rockies states.  When western bees are introduced to eastern states, the two eastern/western subspecies mate producing genetically modified bees. Pathogens are also spread from one species to the other.  The honey bees face this same issue with introduced Chinese bees carrying the varroa mite.


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