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Tuesday, June 12, 2018

How To: A Simple Backyard Project Could Ensure Survival of Bees

By Kelsey Stratton

If our campaign is to “save the pollinators,” then we must place our focus not on honeybees, but on the numerous native, noncommercialized species that face a far greater threat.

Their names: mason, leafcutter, bumblebee, carpenter, halictid, blueberry, and orchard, to name a few.
Unlike honeybees who were brought from Europe to North America almost 400 years ago, many native species, excluding bumblebees, are solitary. Without a social colony or hive to defend, solitary bees are considerably less aggressive toward humans and many do not have barbs.

In addition, solitary bees are far more powerful pollinators than their European counterparts. According to Martha Baskin, the environmental reporter for Green Acre Radio, one mason bee can provide the same amount of pollination as 75-100 honeybees and they require far less maintenance to raise.

Yet mason bees and other native species need our help if their numbers are to rekindle. Since the 1990s, native bee populations have suffered due to habitat loss and an increase in the use of pesticides. A lesser known reason for their plight, however, is the commercialized honeybee. Last month, the Sierra Club published an article that explained how the public’s focus on honeybees hurts our native species. As stated in this article, honeybees are able to forage within a wide radius for pollen and nectar while wild bees rely heavily upon the smaller habitats to which they’ve adapted. Honeybees often encroach upon these habitats and feed on the flowers that the native bees depend upon, bringing diseases from their commercial hives with them. Such disease-transfers decimate native populations.

So what can be done to ensure the survival of indigenous bees?

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The answer may lie in our own backyards.

As awareness of the native bee’s struggle increases, raising solitary bees has never been easier or more accessible for bee enthusiasts! Many online retailers, including Amazon, now sell bee “hotels” that are already assembled, though making one’s own bee house might be more rewarding.

In May of 2017, the Kentucky Gardener magazine published an article about backyard pollinators which provided information on the mason bee’s nesting habits as well as tips for installing bee hotels. The article states that female masons will use the tubes to lay their eggs, carefully packing mud around each one. Therefore, it is important to keep an area of bare, damp soil in close proximity to your bee house as mason bees will not venture far from their nesting site. The bee house should also be installed next to the area you wish to have pollinated.

The solitary mason bee is just one of the species you can hope to attract with a bee house, however. Smaller species of carpenter bees have also been known to take up residence in bee hotels as they too use the tubes for nesting. Providing a suitable home for carpenters can often deter these wood-drillers from making holes in your home. For larger species of carpenters who aren’t inclined to use the bee house, leaving pieces of dead, or soft, wood in your backyard, such as logs, will also guide them away from your home. If homeowners are still concerned, applying a fresh coat of oil-based paint on your home’s wooden boards will act as a deterrent, as is suggested by

Like mason and carpenter bees, leafcutters are “cavity nesters” and will make use of bee hotels. As their name suggests, leafcutters will neatly cut off tiny pieces of leaves to swath their eggs in, providing protection for their future larva. In addition, leafcutters are very efficient pollinators and therefore are beneficial residents in any backyard!

Installing a bee hotel is a simple project that anyone can do and it will make your backyard more accommodating for the native bees who need our help. By providing a suitable home for these pollinators, you will also be taking a crucial step toward conserving and protecting our native wildlife.

PHOTO: Kelsey Krajewski via

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