Homes for Solitary Bees

Posted in All posts, January, on

January.  A quiet time in the garden.  Cold mornings and short afternoons mean I’ve done little more than searching out the first reclusive hellebore blooms and brave snowdrop spears.  I like the spaciousness at this time of year, the strong, uncluttered outlines of the trees against the sky.  It encourages reflection.

But time won’t stand still; Spring will be here again before we know it, and there are things to do before she arrives, like introducing some solitary bee nest boxes into the garden.

Encouraging these most effective of pollinators to your plot will bring great rewards. If you grow fruit and vegetables their pollination services will help produce a bumper crop.

Solitary bees receive much less press than honey bees, but like honey bees their numbers are in decline, mainly because so much of their habitat has been lost in recent years. 

Unlike honey bees, solitary bees don’t live in colonies and are not ruled by a queen. Instead, females make individual nests, in which they lay their eggs.  The nests are stocked with pollen to provide food for the grubs when they hatch. After pupating the young emerge as adult bees the following Spring.

Some solitary bees make nests by burrowing into the ground, but others, such as red mason bees and leaf cutter bees, take over old beetle holes, plant stems, or indeed any suitably sized, straight, smooth tunnel that takes their fancy  -  as you can see from this red mason bee who decided the screw holes in the plastic cover of our wall-mounted hose reel would do rather nicely.

You can make a nest box yourself by collecting hollow plant stems or bamboo canes and arranging them in a structure with a back and a roof to keep the tunnels sheltered from rain.  Fellow Garlic & Sapphire blogger Katie has done just that on her allotment. Or you can drill holes of differing sizes (ranging from 2mm – 10 mm, to appeal to different species) in blocks of wood, making sure your drill bit doesn’t go all the way through your block. 

If DIY doesn’t appeal there are plenty of ready-made nest boxes to choose from, including some fantastic concrete bee bricks designed by British company Green and Blue that can be used as stand alone features or as components in building projects.

Whatever type you choose, you’ll need to position your nest box in a sunny but sheltered position, facing south-east or south-west, raised up at least a metre from the ground.

All this thinking about nest boxes is making me wonder what plants I can add to the garden to provide plenty of hollow stems for next year.  Perhaps sunflowers and dahlias? Do you have any recommendations?

Thanks for reading,

Helen D writes about simple pleasures and seasonal observations at The House at Nab End. She is a volunteer BeeWalker for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, and her gardening is inspired by her love of the natural world.