My garden is started and I'm on my way to growing some delicious fruits and veggies. But I'm worried that yields will be low; there have been fewer bees here in the last few years than there have been in the past. This is being seen across the United States and throughout the world. This is a trend will continue unless we humans change our relationship with our environment.
What do we know?
We know that the bees have access to pretty poor nutrition. This is due largely to growing huge monocultures of corn, soybeans, etc. and replacing our naturally biodiverse land with a single crop. In farming and developing large amounts of land we have also destroyed the ecosystems, which provided bees and other pollinators with their naturally diverse diets.
There are also a declining number of clean and safe water sources for bees to drink from. Many small waterways in the US are polluted with agricultural, industrial, or metropolitan runoff. Alternatively, drinking from larger water sources can be dangerous for bees, as they are more susceptible to predation from fish, birds, etc. Relying on larger bodies of water also limits where bees can live and survive.
Location of a bees home base is important. While bees can fly upwards of 2 miles to collect pollen, they conserve more energy and reproduce more efficiently when there are plenty of flowers close to home. This means that bees are less likely to venture into towns and cities if their homes are in outlying natural areas.
What can we do?
We can each do our part to make our outside spaces as pollinator friendly as we possibly can. Start by planting as many native flowers as you are able. No matter if you are growing multiple flower gardens or just a couple of potted flowering plants on your patio, you are making a difference.
Next we can provide a shelter for our bees to set up a home base. I will be showing you how to build a home for solitary bees. Solitary bees are not social and do not live in colonies like honeybees. They live and reproduce alone, typically sheltering and nesting in the dried out tubular stems of wild flowers. If we want bees to live near us we need to provide them with a similar environment to nest.
Mason Bee House
What you will need
1. A container of sorts (I used a small plastic Folgers coffee container)
2. Toilet paper rolls (the number varies depending on the size of your container)
3. Something to hang your bee house with ( I used a ribbon, but you could use twine, rope, etc.)
1. Cut each toilet paper roll into two equal sized rectangles.
2. Roll each piece of cardboard into a long tube about 8mm in diameter. This is approximately the diameter of a standard pencil.
3. Find a container that is a similar height as your card board tubes. It is important that your container does not flare or get wider toward the opening. This would result in cone shaped holes instead of uniformly thick tubes.
4. Place the cardboard tubes inside of the container. Keep adding cardboard tubes until they are tightly packed, but are not being squished or flattened.
5. Ensure that the tubes are uniformly about 8mm in diameter. If any tubes seem too large, remove the tube and roll it more tightly. Add another tube it they do not seem tightly packed after you replace it.
6. Create a hanging strap by wrapping your ribbon or twine around the container and tying a knot tightly. Underneath the ribbon or twine, add a strong craft glue or super glue, then let dry.
7. Once the glue has dried you are ready to hang your Mason bee house. Try to find a sunny spot, about 9 feet off the ground, that is somewhat sheltered from the elements. Under the eaves on the south side of your house is an ideal location, but your mason bee house can also be hung from the limb of a tree.
Just make sure, wherever you hang your house, that it is secure and doesn't move much in the wind.
Because proper nutrition is important for bees to thrive and pollinate our crops, we need to ensure that there is a varied and large number of native flowers within foraging range of our bees new home.
Finally, we will turn some more trash into a wonderful little watering hole for our bees.
Up-cycled Pollinator Watering Hole
What you will need
1. A shallow basin (I used an exacto knife to cut the bottom inch or so of a gallon milk jug) you can also use the tray of an old planter pot
2. a container with a lid to use as a reservoir (I used a clean peanut butter jar with a lid)
3. marbles or non porous pebbles
4. Push pin (I used an embroidery needle, but you could use anything small and sharp)
1. Take your push pin and poke 5-10 holes randomly at the bottom of your reservoir (peanut butter jar).
2. Place the reservoir in the center of the basin. The holes that you just poked should be touching the bottom of the basin. If you are worried the holes are obstructed, remove the lid to your reservoir and pour some water into it. The water should trickle out very slowly and begin to fill the reservoir.
3. Rinse your marbles or pebbles well. Keeping the reservoir centered in the basin, fill the basin to the brim with rinsed pebbles.
4. Remove the lid to the reservoir, fill the reservoir completely with water, replace the lid.
5. Place the watering hole in a shady place in close proximity to plenty of flowers and your new mason bee home.
What in helping our bee populations?
Did you know?
One of the best ways to help bee populations is to leave dandelions and other flowering "weeds" growing in your yard.
If every household in the United States did this and planted a native flower patch in their yard, we would be on our way to saving the bees.
Check out this podcast if you want to hear
more about the bees!