I've had several questions recently about the Bambeco solitary bee house sold at Costco (they sell the Swiss Alps model), so I decided to head to my local store to check it out. While the price is amazing, the house has a few features that are not so ideal. For details on what makes a good solitary bee house, see here and here.
The depth. At 4.5 inches deep, it is sufficiently deep to allow the production of female and male bees.
What's not so good:
The nesting tube diameter. While the variety of diameters is good, solitary bees need tubes from 3/16 to 5/16 in diameter. While other arthropods, such as spiders, may use the larger tubes, they will not be used by bees.
Limited protected overhang. The nesting tubes should be placed so that the entrance has a bit of protection. That's why we make our houses at least an inch longer than the tubes.
The nesting tubes are glued in place. Once a tube is used it should be replaced to help prevent the build up of pathogens.
March 13, 2019: winter update
The bee house is not holding up well to the winter weather. Here's a photo showing some superficial mold as well as separation of the sides from the base. Note that I added extra protection by attached redwood fence boards to increase the cover of the roof.
March 27, 2019: comments on the 2019 model
Update July 1, 2019
Update October 7, 2019
I have discarded the 2019 bee house. The paint continued to peel and the wood on the roof started to split. I removed the wooden blocks in the front of the house and will use these next year. For folks who have been asking what a correctly designed bee house looks like, here is an example of the one we sell at the Haven.
What makes it correct:
1. It's made out of redwood; studies have shown that bees prefer to nest in wood.
2. The depth and diameter of the nesting tubes are correct. The holes are drilled 5 inches deep, and the openings range from 3/16 to 5/16 inch in diameter.
3. Paper straws have been inserted into the 1/4 inch diameter holes (this is the only size straw available). This means that the tube can be cleaned out after use. I suggest plugging the others with wood filler after use so that they are not re-used.
4. The front of the block has a pattern to it. This may help the bees recognize their individual nest entrance. There is also evidence that a blue front is more attractive to one of the mason bee species.
5. The block has a piece of burlap shading the entrance. Bees are more likely to use the blocks if the entrance is shaded.
It's time to start thinking about holiday gifts for your favorite bee gardener (or yourself!) Beyond the obvious choice of a gift card to the local garden center, here are some suggestions from the Haven.
2014 has been a good year for bee and gardening books; along with the classics California Native Plants for the Garden and the Sunset Western Garden Book consider gifting one or more of these to round out a bee gardener's library.
The Bee: A Natural History, written by Noah Wilson-Rich with Kelly Allin, Norman Carreck, and Andrea Quigley, was published earlier this year by Princeton University Press. Full of beautiful photographs and drawings, this book is an attractive, thorough introduction to the world of honey bees. The authors go into enough detail to make it interesting, but not so much as to lose the interest of a reader who is not a bee biologist. The single chapter on bees other than honey bees covers an assortment of species from various regions of the world.
California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists was written by Gordon Frankie, Robbin Thorp, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter. This definitive guide is a must-have for anyone interested in knowing more about native bees in California urban gardens. I only wish they had recommended other ceanothus varieties, such as 'Valley Violet' and 'Concha' that do well here in the Central Valley!
The California Native Landscape by Greg Rubin and Lucy Warren came out late in 2013; I'm including it for anyone who might have missed it for gifting last year. Although it might better be called The Southern California Native Landscape, it still has much to recommend it for northern California gardeners. Good information about soil and garden design is very helpful, as is the pest section.
Bee observation tools
Building bee condos for your own garden is an easy project; a gift card to the local hardware store or home center is a great way to help make this happen. A bee condo to hold individual bee blocks or nest tubes can be built from redwood fencing; this requires basic carpentry skills.
- Author: Kirsten Pearsons
This summer I have had the joy of being an intern at the Honey Bee Haven. It seems quite unfair that many students were taking summer classes or holed up in labs while I got to be outside working in a beautiful garden!
If you have visited the garden recently, you will have noticed the multitude of new plants signs. Updating the signs has been a summer-long project that started during my first week at the Haven. Back in June, Chris showed me around the garden and had me take notes on what plant signs we needed to add to the garden. I come from a botanical background, so I thought I knew plants, yet I found myself having trouble connecting the plants in the garden to the plant names I recognized.
In the following weeks, I worked with and among the garden's 250-plus plants, I researched the best bee-friendly plant families, and I drew and painted dozens of flowers for Haven displays. The time flew by and soon enough it was the end of September - time to finish updating and replacing the plant labels. By then, I could easily recognized most of the plant families and individual species. As Chris and I placed signs throughout the garden, I was also reminded of the things I had seen and done throughout the summer. The shasta daisies, yarrows, california buckwheat, and gum plant had become my constant companions through the our survey of natural enemies; the catmint, calamint, and cape balsam were buzzing with honeybees as they had been all summer; and the zinnias were busier than ever with visits from honeybees, native bees, skipper butterflies, and gulf fritillary butterflies.
While I will take away many things from this experience – a special fondness for mantids, an appreciation for combining art and science, and a much greater knowledge of plant and bee biology – my greatest take away will be the genuine interest and excitement of the people that I met in the garden. All garden guests, energetic children to master gardeners, were always happy to learn something new and share their garden experience. The garden is a wonderful place to let your imagination run wild whether you're seeking out cool critters or new garden ideas.
Overall, I have come to realize that, to be a good gardener you have to understand and appreciate insects, and to be a good entomologist you have to understand and appreciate plants. So being a gardening entomologist certainly has its advantages!
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven will hold our last open house of the year on October 3, 2014. Please join us for special events and activities from 5:30pm to 7pm. Specimens of the garden's most common bees will be available for viewing and tips on identifying bees will be presented. A guided tour at 6pm will focus on fall- and winter-blooming bee plants and several styles of bee houses will be available for purchase to support the garden.
The Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven is a half-acre garden located on the UC Davis campus devoted exclusively to bee pollinator conservation and education. We offer free admission and are open every day from dawn to dusk. From Hutchison Drive, take Hopkins and make the first right onto Bee Biology Road; the garden is at the end of the road.