Did you know that bees around the world are buzzing – literally and figuratively? With over 20,000 species globally and 4,000 of them native to North America alone, it’s no wonder why we often hear these industrious insects in our gardens.
But unfortunately, not all is going well for their population: according to the Center for Biological Diversity, 23% of bee populations across this continent are on a downward spiral! Sadly this is thanks to habitat loss and pesticide pollution that threaten their way of life. Honey never tasted so bittersweet…
The honeybee may have become the poster child for bees, but most of its North American brethren are a decidedly independent and solitary species. Battling it out in underground lairs or hiding behind bricked walls; these little critters do not conform to the expected norms that come with being part of society – no beehive living here! That’s right, the vast majority of bees in North America are solitary.
Beekeeping isn’t all about honey – it’s also a lifeline to sustaining the world’s solitary bee population.
If you’ve been looking for an impactful DIY activity, this might be just the thing! With some simple steps and help from our trusty solitary bee friends, we can ensure they thrive despite their current rapid decline.
You’ll learn about two species in particular, how to create an environment conducive for them to thrive, and find a fun way to make a difference for our planet.
So, let’s unite eco-hobbyists and “bee-come” beekeepers!
THINGS TO NOTE ABOUT SOLITARY BEES
Are Solitary Bees Aggressive?
People tend to associate bees with two things – sweet honey or painful stings. But not all of these buzzing creatures are the same; in fact, some species couldn’t be more kind and gentle!
Sure, this is true of some species, like the Africanized Honey Bee but there are 20,000 species, remember?
Solitary bees tend to be non-aggressive, which makes sense since they have no hive to look after or defend from invaders.
In fact, among mason bees, only females have stingers, and they account but only 30% of all mason bees are female. Mason bees are solitary, and each female bee is a queen. She will lay eggs and raise offspring on her own.
While she can certainly sting, she is still mostly docile compared to a social bee with a hive.
Are All Bees Pollinators?
Ok, so solitary bees are pretty tame, which is great. But nearly all bees are pollinators as well – so these overshadowed guys and gals of the bee world are also great for keeping ecosystems alive and growing.
Timeout: Honeybees are not native to North America; bumblebees are the only social bee that is native to North America. Of native pollinators in the US, the mason bee is probably the best known, next to the bumble bee.
WHY SHOULD YOU CARE ABOUT POLLINATOR BEES?
Bees greatly contribute not only to the pollination of wildflowers but also to the pollination of crops. It’s estimated that all pollinating creatures (including bees) are responsible for pollinating 75% of the world’s flowering plants, and 35% of the world’s food crops.
And it’s not just that they are responsible for pollinating flowering plants and crops; the more important point is that 3/4 of flowering plants and 1/3 of food crops depend on these pollinating creatures to survive.
Do Solitary Bees Live In Hives or Isolated “Nests”?
Since mason bees, leafcutter bees, and all other solitary bee species do not live in hives, they are considered tunnel-nesting bees. The tunnel doesn’t necessarily have to be in the ground, although it certainly can, and is for some species of solitary bees.
Solitary bees will often nest in existing holes left behind by wood-boring insects, hollow stems of plants, manmade tubes, etc.
When is the Best Time For Solitary Beekeeping?
This article is centered on North America, as such, mid-April to mid-May is the best time to start raising and attracting native bees. If you already garden, solitary bees will be a great addition to your crops and help tremendously.
But if you don’t have a garden, no worries! Your bees will contribute to the existing flora in your vicinity or the flowers that grow from the seed packets in the supplies list.
Okay – that’s the 101 on solitary beekeeping, let’s have a look at what you need to make this eco-hobby happen.
SUPPLIES NEEDED FOR SOLITARY BEEKEEPING
- Mason Bee or Leafcutter Bee Cocoons
- Bee Habitat Domicile
- ‘Easy Tear’ Tubes
- Rubber Band
- Perennial Pollinator Wildflower Seeds
If you want to try any other types of seeds, that is completely fine. The most important criterion is finding seeds of flowers that are great for pollinators. Here are a handful of flowers that you might explore:
- Red Poppies
- Plains Coreopsis
- Annual Baby’s Breath
- Corn Flowers
- and other varieties 😉
Alright, enough of the list, let’s get to the beekeeping tutorial.
HOW TO BECOME A SOLITARY BEEKEEPER
1. Plant Your Seeds
Your flowers will need a time to grow, so make sure you plant your seeds in time to be in bloom for when your bees arrive. This varies by region, so if you aren’t entirely sure when that is for your area, just call up a plant nursery and they will be able to give you localized advice.
2. Assemble Your “Easy Tear” Tubes, Place In Domicile
The nesting tubes (“easy tear” tubes) should be bound tightly together with a rubber band to eliminate the possibility of them moving or falling out.
If you can fit your pinky between any of the space between the rubber band and the tubes, you need to add more tubes or use a tighter rubber band.
We recommend “easy tear” tubes because… they are easy to tear. Yes, quite an inventive name, but this is ideal for beginner beekeepers because you can easily modify the tubes to fit the domicile
Now place your tubes inside of the domicile, and voila, your bee nest is open and ready for guests.
3. Install Your Bee Domicile
Find a location that has access to morning sun, then mount the domicile at eye level.
Like valuing any home, the most important part of solitary beekeeping is location, location, location.
The height of installation helps protect your bees from rodents, plus you’ll get a great view of how they’re doing in their new home.
Below, you’ll find two great videos with specific details on how to care for solitary bees.
4. Order Your Bees
Head over to Crown Bees, and begin the ordering process for your solitary bees. There are a few questions and prompts that you’ll need to answer during the ordering process.
WHEN SHOULD YOU ORDER YOUR BEES?
The best time to order solitary bees is once daytime temperatures in your area average at least 50-55 degrees and regional blossoms are open.
If for some reason your weather starts acting finicky when your bees arrive, you can store the bees in their packaging (in a fridge) for up to 5 weeks.
PROCESS OF ORDERING SOLITARY BEES
What Region of the US Do You Reside?
Your location will determine what solitary bees will do best in.
When Do You Want Your Solitary Bees to Ship?
On Crown Bees’ site, you’ll be shown a calendar to choose the best day to ship your bees. Your bees will take about a week to arrive, so make sure to mark your calendar.
Don’t forget to take into account the pollinator seeds you planted in step 1 and when those flowers may be in bloom.
What Type of Solitary Bee Would You Like?
You’ll be prompted to choose from either 10 mason bees or 30 leafcutter bees. Both species are non-aggressive and solitary.
CLEAR YOUR CALENDAR
If you’re a busy worker bee, consider having your bees shipped to your office so they don’t receive too much sun exposure if they parcel ends up sitting out on your front porch. They are living creatures after all, even though they will arrive in a dormant state.
Your bees will arrive in their cocoons – below, you’ll find both leafcutter and mason bee cocoons. Pretty cute right?
To the naked eye, the main difference between the two species is that Leafcutter bees use leaves to make their cocoons whereas Mason bees use mud.
Interested in what your friends look like? Check out this short video of a mason bee, up close and personal, created by Crown Bees.
5. Your Bees Arrive by Mail
Your bees will arrive in small boxes via USPS, and then packaged in even smaller box like the images above. The white bag inside of the boxes act as an ice pack of sorts, keeping the bees cool and dormant. This is why it’s important to not have them out on your front porch too terribly long.
Unfortunately, my mason bees were left on my front porch for about 3 hours. If this happens to you, place them and their box in your refrigerator. Place a cup of water next to the box, this will help add moisture. Leave your bees in the refrigerator for about a week until you’re ready to have them hatch.
6. Unpack Your Bee Cocoons When Temperatures Are Right
Once daytime temperatures average above 60 degrees, and flowers are in bloom, it’s time to take your bees out of their boxes. and I had open blooms nearby for the bees to pollinate.
7. Cut The Box Flaps to the Bee Cocoons
The bees are sent with specific instructions, so follow them carefully!
In the image above, the flaps of the box were completely removed. If you choose to do this method as well- consider cutting the box down so it is smaller.
8. Place Your Bees In Their Domiciles
You will place your bee cocoons inside of the bee domicile you built, or directly next to it. Make sure you do not place them in direct sunlight. DO NOT place cocoons in nesting holes/tubes, they will do this themselves.
Rather than setting the open box beside the domicile, the image above shows placing the box behind the tubes. This is helpful for protecting the bees and managing sunlight.
To do this method, simply remove the tubes, carefully place the box in the back of the domicile, then put the tubes back inside.
Notice how the tubes are extending beyond the length of domicile? You DO NOT want this! If this happens to you, cut the tubes down or the box in the back that contains the bee cocoons. This eliminates the threat of water damage to your bees.
9. Observe and Enjoy Your Bees – You’re Now a Beekeeper!
Your bees can take up to 4 weeks to fully emerge and choose their nesting holes. They will be extremely sluggish when they first emerge.
Bees are ectothermic, meaning that their body does not retain heat. So in order to have the necessary body heat to fly and go about their business they need warmth from the sun! In short, The lethargic behavior you notice is their version of having a low battery.
Pro Tip: If you ordered Mason bees, consider digging a small hole near their domicile, continually filling it with water to create mud. This will help them make their house a home.
Watching bees in action is amazing and you will certainly find this hobby rewarding, and at times remarkable.
If you’d like to get to know your bees even better, have a look at the following videos. They are packed with useful info for the beginner beekeeper.