By Sharon Lovejoy; art by Jack Desrocher
Flowers need bees. Without bees to pollinate them, many flowers couldn’t make seeds or fruit. And bees need flowers. Without the flowers’ nectar and pollen, the bees would have nothing to eat. But bees need something else, too: a cozy home for raising their young. That’s where YOU come in! Build a bee house and you can “bee” sure they’ll thank you!
You may be thinking “Attract bees? Not me! That’s crazy!” No need to worry. Native bees are gentle creatures. Being “busy as bees,” they don’t go looking for trouble. They’re much less likely to sting than honey bees, because they don’t have a hive to defend. (If someone in your family is allergic to bee stings, though, it’s best not to put a bee house in your yard.)
What You Need
- For the Bumblebee Abode: Clay pot at least 6 inches across and deep; cork that fits in pot’s drain hole; nesting material such as a handful of dry fine grass or moss, lint from a clothes dryer or upholsterer’s cotton; flat rock or board at least 8 inches square
- For the Block Home: Block of wood about 6 inches square and 7 or 8 inches long (Pine is best, but do not use pressure-treated wood); strip of wood about 10 inches long; set of drill bits (1/8 up to 5/16″)
- For the Cane Condo: Hollow bamboo canes with 1/4 to 1/2-inch openings; twine; plastic 1/2 gallon milk jug or coffee can
What You Do
Native bees are good to have around. Here’s your chance to be a backyard bee buddy! How? By building places for native bees to raise their young in. At least 4,000 species (kinds) of native bees live in North America. And many of them look for beetle tunnels in dead trees and the hollow stems of plants to nest in. You can help by creating extra holes for them to use.
A BUMBLEBEE ABODE
- Find a dry, shady plot of ground in your yard. Lay the flat rock or board on the ground.
- Lay the handful of nesting material on top of it. (Material should be 2 to 3 inches deep.)
- Put the pot upside down over the nesting material. The edge of the pot should hang over the edge of the rock or board. Leave just enough space for bumblebees to get in and out (about the thickness of your thumb).
- Plug up the pot’s drain hole with the cork.
AT HOME IN A BLOCK (for leaf-cutters, masons, and other native bees)
- Drill holes of different sizes into one end of the wood cube. Make holes 4-5 inches deep and about a half inch apart.
- Nail the strip of wood to the back of the block and then nail the strip to the side of a building or to a tree. (The nails won’t hurt the tree.)
- Put the block where it gets morning sun but shade the rest of the day.
bee home but shade the rest of the day.
CANE CONDO(for mason, cellophane, and leaf-cutter bees)
- Cut off the pouring end of the milk jug.
- Cut the canes into 6-inch lengths and put enough into the jug or can to fit tightly.
- Use the twine to tie the jug or can firmly to a tree or post in a shady place.
- Only female bees can sting. Native bees rarely do. Also, their stings don’t “burn” or cause nasty reactions as wasp and honey bee stings do.
- Unlike honey bees, native bees do not live in hives. Most also don’t live in large family groups.
- Some bees, called cuckoo bees, don’t make their own nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nests of other bees. (The bees are named after birds that do the same to other birds.)
- Bees see the colors of flowers, but not the way we do. For example, a bee might see a red blossom as black. They also see certain kinds of light, including UV (ultraviolet), that humans can’t see.