"Go native" with native bees, that is.
A bee condo is a block of wood drilled with specially sized holes for nesting sites. Bees lay their eggs, provision the nests, and then plug the holes. Months later, the offspring will emerge.
In our backyard, we provide bee condos for BOBs (short for blue orchard bee) and leafcutter bees.
In the summer it's fun watching the leafcutter bees snip leaves from our shrubbery and carry them back to their bee condo. It's easy to tell the nesting sites apart: BOB holes are larger and plugged with mud, while the leafcutter bee holes are smaller and plugged with leaves.
Osmia lignaria, a native species of North America, is sold commercially for use in orchard crop pollination.
If you want to learn how to build them or where to buy them, Thorp has kindly provided a list of native bee nesting site resources on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility website. You can also purchase them at many beekeeping supply stores. (Also check out the Xerces Society's website information.)
Better yet, if you'd like to learn more about native bees and their needs, be sure to register online for the Pollinator Gardening Workshop on Saturday, March 15 on the UC Davis campus. Hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, it begins at 7:30 a.m. in Room 1001 of Giedt Hall and ends at 2 p.m. with a plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery and a tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. For the small fee of $40 you'll receive a continental breakfast and box lunch and return home with an unbee-lievable wealth of knowledge. Speakers will include several honey bee and native bee experts: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp; pollination ecologist Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. See the complete list on the website.
You'll be hearing from Robbin, Neal and Eric, but you'll be thinking about BOB.
When you install bee condos--those wooden blocks with holes drilled in them to attract nesting native bees--sometimes you get the unexpected.
Home invasion! Home invasion!
We installed two bee condos, each about the size of a brick, in our yard. One is for leafcutting bees (genus Megachile) and is filled quite nicely, thank you, with 10 tenants. Another, with larger holes, is for blue orchard bees (BOBs, genus Osmia). Despite our "vacancy" sign (discounted rates, free WiFi, free continental breakfasts), nothing is occupying it except earwigs.
Earwigs! We're wigged out.
They were especially persistent in the damp weather.
Native bee guru Robbin Thorp, a native pollinator specialist and emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, who has researched native bee holes with colleagues John Barthell and Gordon Frankie, told us: "We found that mostly wasps and earwigs occupied the largest holes. Only a few of the introduced leafcutting bees that could not find appropriate size holes when bee populations were abnormally high would make aberrant nests in the larger cavities. By 1990, we scaled back to the three diameters that our bees use: 4.5, 6.5 and 8 mm (3/16, 1/4, and 5/16 inch) for our studies in California."
The earwigs, Thorp says, "are not so likely to be present now that the weather is hot and dry, but in shady, damp, cool areas, and especially early in the year when it is wet and cool, they can be a problem."
Their research, published in Environmental Entomology in 1998 and titled “Invader Effects in a Community of Cavity Nesting Megachilid Bees (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae)” involved native bee species and their introduced competitors.
In their paper, they wrote that the European earwig (Forficttla auricularia L) from Eurasia and northern Africa, was introduced into North America at the turn of the century. "It has invaded most counties in the state of California since its apparent introduction in the late 1910s (Essig 1923, Langston and Powel! 1975)," they wrote. "Its populations have grown to high numbers in natural areas, especially in riparian zones where humidity levels are relatively high (Barthel! and Stone 1995). The earwig is most active during evening hours, climbing into tree crowns to scavenge and hunt but hiding in cracks, crevices, or holes during the daylight hours."
Active indeed. Those European earwigs soon found our condo for BOBs (which perhaps should now mean Big ol' Blast).
Scientists have long been studying alternative pollinators, especially with the decline of the honey bee population and growing concerns about "How will we pollinate our crops?"
Now a newly published study in the Annals of the Entomological Society of America (ESA) shows that wild bees, which are not affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), may serve as alternative pollinators.
You've seen the tiny bees buzzing around on blossoms. At first glance, you may have mistaken them for honey bees. They're not.
Chances are you'll be hearing more about them, though.
ESA's communications director Richard Levine e-mailed us a press release today
reporting the results of a three-year scientific study that took place on 15 southwestern
Most species were from subfamily Halictinae (family Halictidae) and genus Andrena (family Andrenidae)
The journal article, titled "Wild Bees (Hymenoptera: Apoidea: Anthophila) of the Michigan Highbush Blueberry Agroecosystem," was authored by Julianna K. Tuell (
A quote from Tuell in the news release: "This should help growers know what kinds of bees are in the fields so that they can make informed decisions about whether they should modify crop management practices in order to help conserve natural populations of bees."
"Untreated bamboo or reeds are good materials because they provide natural variation in hole diameter to attract the broadest range of species. There are also a number of commercially manufactured options that growers can use, such as foam blocks with pre-drilled holes and cardboard tubes made to a particular diameter to suit a particular species of interest. Drilling different sized holes in wood is another option. If a grower is interested in trying to build up populations of a particular species, there are also details about how to do so available online."
Good idea. On a tour of Yolo County farms last year, we saw many "bee condos," or nesting cavities, for the native pollinators. (See below). They're easy to make. Just like a baseball field attracts players, so will bee condos attract native pollinators. Build them and they will come.
(B y the way ESA now has a presence on Facebook, offering more opportunities for social networking.)
y the way ESA now has a presence on Facebook, offering more opportunities for social networking.)