Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Solitary Bee Hotel

The majority of people will know that honeybees in the UK tend to live in a hive which is owned and managed by a beekeeper. Their colony consists of one Queen, hundreds of Drones, and thousands of Workers. Our fat, furry bumblebees also live in colonies which are normally located within a hole beneath the ground. However, the lifestyle of the solitary bee, that nests in my Bee Hotel has a completely different.
Whitetail bumblebee (Bombus lucorum) collecting nectar from
 Lythrum salicaria - Purple Loosestrife - a good flower for both bees and butterflies
There are over 250 species of solitary bee in this country, and as the name implies, they live alone. However, the various species will happily nest alongside one another as they do in my hotel. They do not produce honey, do not have a queen but they do play a vital role in pollinating our crops, flowers, and trees. It is known that they actually pollinate plants much more efficiently than the honey bee. They are non-aggressive because they do not have any honey to protect, and in general the males do not even have a sting. 
Each tunnel in my hotel holds roughly 12 - 15 eggs, which become a larvae before finally emerging as a bee during the following Spring. The solitary bee creates a ball of pollen, called a pollen loaf, at the far end of the tunnel which she moistens with nectar and then lays an egg on top of it. This will feed the larvae during the months ahead. She then builds a partition wall and repeats the process again, and again until she reaches the exit of the tunnel. This she then seals off with a saliva like substance made from mud or resin, or in the case of the leaf-cutter bee, masticated and cut leaves. Importantly the eggs nearest to the entrance are usually male enabling them to emerge first so that they are ready to mate with the female bees when they emerge from the tunnel. The male then dies within two weeks of leaving the tunnel.
I can thoroughly recommend having a solitary bee hotel. They are not expensive, and if you are handy you could construct one yourself (there are instructions on the internet). They must sit in a sunny location facing south, at least 1-1½ metres above ground, and have plenty of 'bee likeable' flowers growing nearby. Purple Loosestrife, Lavender, Buddleia, and Echinops all grow in my garden along the flight path to the hotel. It is fun to watch them coming and going whilst laying their eggs and then sealing up the exit hole. Young and old can take pleasure in watching a bee hotel, and at the end of the day you know that each year you have probably added at the very least 100 more new bees to the bee population. 
During the winter months put the hotel somewhere dry and cold i.e. garage, carport. then replace it back in the spring. It is a good idea to take it apart then and give it a good clean, use a diluted solution of bleach, let it thoroughly dry, and then reassemble it.

I was checking how many tunnels had been filled when suddenly this little bee popped out, which I believe to be a Red Mason bee. You can see pollen around her mouth, so I imagine that she has been making a pollen and nectar loaf. When I checked at the end of the day she had almost finished filling the tunnel and spent the night at the entrance guarding her eggs, which she then proceeded to seal during following day. There are now nine of the tunnels filled which equates to over a 100 eggs to date, and there are still about 3 laying weeks to go. 
Convolvulus - blue ensign
A few weeks ago I mentioned that I had tried to grow a blue flower pyramid from seeds that I had planted. Unfortunately only the base is blue as currently the Ipomoea 'Heavenly Blue' morning glories are a bit slow climbing to the top. but I should really have placed them facing south rather than north. You can just see one of the morning glories making it's way up the frame on the left.

42 comments:

  1. These bee hotels are becoming very common here and it is not at all unusual to visit someone's garden and see one or two. It is good to see people helping nature rather than destroying it, and goodness knows pollinators need a little help from us. Now if only we could get a global ban on those damn neonicitinoid pesticides...........

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    1. In April 2018, member states of the European Union agreed a total ban on neonicotinoid insecticide use, so I agree with you that a global ban should be enforced.

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  2. Masonry bees need purpose-built hotels these days. They used to burrow into the lovely, soft lime mortar of the joints of old buildings, but now it is always rock-hard Portland cement.

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    1. I have been very aware that there are lots of bees around this summer. May be it is my imagination, but that is what I feel.

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    2. Hello Tom and Rosemary, The Portland cement is also problematic when used in repointing old buildings in place of the older lime mortar, as it can damage the softer bricks and certain types of stone used historically. --Jim

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    3. Yes, that is an important point - Tom is most likely talking about the Georgian stone buildings in his home town of Bath.

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  3. Now that is on out list for next spring! We have a pile of sticks which attracts bees and other insects, but I like the idea of a 'bee hotel' Our back garden is south facing and there is plenty of lavender and we have 2 buddleia. Looking at the photo of your bee we get quite a few of those, so maybe our neighbours somewhere have bee hotels. Best, Jane x

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    1. This is great news Jane - I am sure that you will enjoy having one, and they take a very small amount of your time which far out weighs the benefits.
      The one that I have has a large screw holding all of the various floors together. You simply unscrew it with it's wing nut, separate the layers to wash, I use an old toothbrush, and then reassemble it again when bone dry ready for the following nesting season.

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  4. What a great project having the bee hotel. I have not yet seen them in Australia, but will keep an eye out, and would definitely consider trying it in our garden. We have lavender growing all year and the bees come to it, and always have other flowers in bloom. It is so cute to see them filling their hole and sealing it over - I would love that. The blue of your Morning Glories is just wonderful!

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    1. If you have space - perhaps you could treat yourself to one whilst over in Europe. They are not very big. Mine comes apart very easily so that would cut down on bulk. I have just checked and you apparently have 11 species of solitary bee in Australia which I presume have the same requirements as ours.

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  5. I really appreciate your love for nature and everything regarding the same . And what a great a great idea to create a bee hotel !

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    1. The bee hotels require very little attention but are a source of great pleasure and satisfaction.

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  6. Your bee hotel is terrific. I have been interested in Solitary Bees for a while now so I enjoyed your post very much. The morning glory is beautiful - I have a regular ordinary one growing up my balcony and I love that too

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    1. The Royal Ensign is a dwarf morning glory - I have decided to move the pot to a southerly position in order to speed up the growth of the morning glory - it is climbing too slowly up the the frame at the moment in its northerly position.

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  7. What an interesting post Rosemary. I knew nothing about the solitary bee or even knew that they egistet.
    Bees love our Box Elder tree in the early Spring. They then come back to collect pollen from our Linden trees. There are always thousands upon thousands, maybe even millions of bees who visit us. Their beekeeper has been adding more and more "boxes" every year because his bees are producing more and more honey every year. We also benefit for the beekeeper always shares his honey with us.
    I love your idea of a bee hotel. I wonder if your solitary bees get along with the ordinary bumble bee.

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    1. Dear Gina - I only learnt about them a few years ago, but the thrill of them is that you can help them breed but so easily. It is lovely that you get honey that is actually produce via bees on your Linden trees - enjoy.

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  8. So funny, I awoke this morning and stood at the dining room window watching a fat bee crawling about, then flying up and down as if lost. Perhaps she was looking for a place to call home! I loved reading all this about solitary bees Rosemary - and am picturing you scrubbing with the old toothbrush at the end of the season - never a dull day!!!!!!
    I think I will try one in my garden for next year - perhaps Santa will read my wish list where I will add one - thanks for the tips.

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    1. Do get a bee hotel if you can Mary it is so satisfying and rewarding, and with very little maintenance which I like. Fortunately it is easy to clean as it all comes completely apart. I just pop it all in a bucket of water with a little bleach and give it all a little scrub, then when it has dried I reassembly it and hang it up again.
      By the way I found the frozen pizza bases in Lidl - made by Alfredo for Lidl. We had it last night with similar toppings to yours, and it was delicious - thanks.

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  9. Thanks for all the info about solitary bees and how they use "bee hotels." I've seen these bee hotels for sale in garden stores and had no clue what they were all about. What a great way to help the bee population!

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    1. I kept seeing them for a while not really understanding how they worked. I have had mine now for about 4 years so the hotel must have produced quite a few bees over that time.

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  10. How wonderful. I had no idea there were solitary bees. I love the fact you have provided them with a hotel. I will have to research this to see if it would work where I live. :-) Who was it that said we would all be dead in 4 years without the bees?

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    1. My vote goes to Albert Einstein - do get a little hotel if you find one Catherine - the more the better, and they are fun too.

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  11. Any help bees can get from us is a good thing.

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  12. We have had bee hotels on our property for the last four years. In that time I've also planted bee attractive plants, choosing species with different blooming times to provide food from Spring to late Fall. My work seems to have paid off as this year the garden is full of bees. I love it when they gently bump into my arm as I work. We provide a small bowl of mud under the hotels. We keep the bees in a fridge over the winter, this helps them remain dormant. We have a problem with pollen mites in this area therefore we remove the cocoons from their hotel and rinse them in water before tucking them away. I love my bees, sounds like you do too.

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    1. I have seen on the internet that some people remove the cocoons and rinse them. I just put mine into the garage to over winter to keep them chilled. I really love watching them, and get excited every time that I see a tunnel being used. It is interesting to see how differently the bees finish off the exit holes.

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  13. Hello Rosemary, Anything that encourages bees is a good thing, except when they invade houses or establish themselves near entrances. At my last house, I had problems with bumblebees, wasps and hornets, but rarely saw any honeybees. While I was not prepared to get into beekeeping, a bee hotel for wild solitary bees would have been a worthwhile project.
    --Jim

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    1. Hello Jim - Honeybee care is a skill that requires lots of time, and knowledge. These little hotels suit me fine, no bother to keep and also serve a very useful purpose.

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  14. Interesting post. You can get a lot of pleasure watching nature closely down to miniature sized levels. I do have a wildlife garden but not a bee hotel yet. Saw my first butterflies of the year yesterday- which seems a bit late given the good warm weather in early July.

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    1. Your butterflies are very late, I wonder why that is. Last week we had hummingbird hawk moths in the garden that are such a pleasure to see. I first saw them in the south of France several years ago, so I believe that this shows just how our climate is changing that to see them living here now.

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  15. This is a great idea, Rosemary. I don't have much space in my garden, but the bee homes seem to be very compact. I think there were more bees around my lavender and rosemary last summer, I'm pleased to say.

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    1. It is very compact and no bigger than 12ins/30cms high. It will happily hang on a wall but it must face south.

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    2. Thanks Rosemary. It is quite small. Does that mean facing north here, I wonder.

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    3. I found an Australian website which suggests a sheltered spot - this is the website here:-
      https://www.backyardbuddies.org.au/habitats/build-a-bee-hotel?gclid=EAIaIQobChMImJ_p-4nm4wIVyrHtCh0wuws0EAAYASAAEgLXHvD_BwE

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  16. Dearest Rosemary,
    Lovely post and if any person can hang such a Solitary Bee Hotel, it is YOU!
    From your postings we all know that you have a quite large and wonderful garden with a good mix of flowers and thus ample supply of food for such bees.
    The environment has to be appropriate for using any bee hotel.
    Husband Pieter has been a bee keeper but lost all of his bee houses during an air raid in WWII... Sad!
    Sending you hugs for a lovely weekend,
    Mariette

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    1. Dear Mariette - I am very impressed that Pieter was a bee keeper. It is something that requires real knowledge and dedication, and I suspect that he got lots of lovely honey as a reward too. What a shame that he lost his bee houses, that must have been very upsetting for him. These little bee hotels are very rewarding and require very little effort considering the amount of pleasure that they give, and it is lovely to know that you are helping the bee population too.
      Hope that you both have a lovely weekend too.

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  17. I have learned so much from this post. I do not have a large enough garden at my Texas home...but will research if solitary bees can live at this high altitude in Colorado...since I have nearly two acres here.

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    1. Dear Janey - even your Texas home garden would be big enough - a bee hotel is very small, it is only 12ins/30cms high and I remember that you have Pyracantha growing which bees love. They would also enjoy the flowers in nearby gardens too.

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