Did you know that there are more than 20,000 species of pollen bees worldwide, and that 3,500 call North America home? Though this number may seem substantial, there has been a severe reduction in the bee population, and both the honey bee and the solitary pollen bee have been affected. As 60% of our food requires pollination, this is of concern to us all. With beekeeping being beyond most of us, many gardeners are turning their attention to helping the solitary pollen bee by installing pollen bee nests in their gardens.
These nests offer the pollen bee a safe home, and the gardeners receive excellent pollination activity; each nest can produce 100-150 bees. With the reduction of the bee population, farmers are also using pollen bees, instead of the honey bees, to pollinate their crops.
We asked Robert Weeden, president and owner of Armstrong & Blackbury Horticultural Products, about the pollen bee nests he developed after several years of research.
What’s the best time of the year to install the pollen bee nest?
Solitary pollen bees are active at different times during the growing season so a nest can be installed at any time during spring, summer and early fall. Many bees will start to emerge when the temperature gets to 15o C and when plants, trees and bushes start to flower.
What is the best location in the typical backyard in terms of height, sun, nearby plants or shrubs?
Installing the nest in a south- or east-facing location at a height of between 12 and 50 inches is suggested. The bees are sun worshippers and prefer a location with morning sun to wake them up and midday sun to keep the nest warm. As most solitary pollen bees stay close to their nest, it’s important to ensure a variety of plants are available. Choose plants that offer a succession of blooms throughout the season and plant in clumps rather than scattered throughout the garden. Plants that are native to the growing area will provide food to bees that are native. Your herb garden and vegetable patch also provide great feeding areas for the bees.
Will the nest attract wasps or less desirable insects?
The solitary pollen bee nest will not attract wasps or hornets. It is scientifically designed to attract the harmless pollen bee only. Most hornets, wasps and yellow jackets live in colonies and wouldn’t use the single nest tubes in the pollen bee nest.
How long might it take for pollen bees to discover the nests?
It may take a few weeks for the bees to find and deem the nest safe to use. Placing water in the garden may encourage them to take up residence; bees use water and soil to build their nest. If mulch is used on the flower beds, ensure that some areas are left uncovered to enable the bees to use soil to seal their cells inside the tubes.
How much maintenance is required to see the nest in use from one year to the next?
The nest can be left in the garden all year; it’s insulated and weather resistant. Once the tubes are filled and closed by the bee, it will take up to 12 months for the new bees to emerge. The nest can be cleaned after the bees have emerged and the tubes are empty.
If there is more than one nest, how far apart should they be?
Most pollen bees are solitary bees, with one female per nest and no queen or worker bees. These females can be very gregarious, preferring to make their nest side-by-side in the same area, much like urban apartment dwellers. Solitary pollen bee nests can be placed quite close to each other in the garden or throughout as space allows.