Native bees are the unsung heroes of the pollinator world. Honeybees are wonderful in their own right, and anyone who has spent a lazy picnic afternoon watching butterflies flutter and spar in the sunlight knows their charms well. Equally beautiful are the iridescent cousins of the better-known honey-bee and bumble-bee. Metallic blue bees of the genus Osmia, bright green Halictids, and elegantly striped Megachilids can match the prettiest swallowtail butterfly for looks.
For the positively bee-mad, or anyone who loves the beauty of the tiny wild that is everywhere about us, read what the good people of the Xerces Society have to say. Their book on Attracting Native Pollinators is a must-have for all serious meadow gardeners.
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, orchard bees perform a great deal of useful work in the home garden. They are active earlier in the morning than honeybees, take no midday break, and pull long hours carting pollen between blossoms until the sun meets the horizon at the close of day. These bees also do not suffer from the colony collapse diseases that plague American honey-bee populations (many of which have been seriously exacerbated, if not caused outright, by the practices of industrial farming and the use of toxic insecticides. Learn more here.) The future of commercial orchard-keeping may belong more to our native bees than to the European honey-bees we have until now relied upon.
At this point you are probably asking, “How can I invite these wonderful insects into my little corner of the ecosystem?” It is a simple affair requiring nothing more complex than a block of wood and a drill:
1. Select a piece of scrap wood. Cut off ends of 2×4’s work well. (Note: Avoid treated lumber where possible. That stuff will poison you, and it’ll poison the bees even quicker.)
2. Drill a series of holes into the block with differently sized bits. Many native bees are cavity nesters who prefer to nest in holes the exact diameter of their bodies. Depending on the species present in your home area, different bees will colonize differently sized holes. Make a note of which bit sizes you use, and which are actively colonized. Next year, when you make more blocks, use the sizes that the bees prefer.
3.Nail a shingle, another piece of thin wood, or a piece of Tulip Poplar bark to the top of your box to act as a rain shield.
4. Affix your drilled block to a fencepost or other standing structure.
5. Observe throughout the season and see which bees come to call your lovingly crafted box home.
For the advanced class: Tie bundles of small-diameter bamboo together and hang them from your eaves. Solitary bees enjoy nesting in the bamboo’s hollow stems as much as they like drilled holes in wooden blocks.
For more inspiration, check out these beautiful and easy-to-build structures.
Or take a look at the slide-show portion of the Native Pollinators talk given at this year’s Tom Tom Festival: