Much of what we read about bees refers to honey bees. However there are thousands of species of wild bees as well. These are mostly solitary bees, where every female lays eggs, rather than just the one queen, as is the case in honey bee colonies.
I recently attended a class on creating habitat for wild bees, specifically cavity nesting bees. About 70% of wild bees nest in the ground and very little is known about these bees scientifically, according to the speaker. However, scientists know more about cavity nesting bees and this was the focus. These are bees that nest in hollow shapes, such as reeds, hollowed stems or holes in wood. There are several kinds of cavity nesting bees, including mason bees that pack their nests with mud and leaf cutters that use pieces of leaves to wrap their cocoons. Loss of available habitat is one of the challenges these bees face and it is an area where humans can actually help. There are a few ways we can help by restoring natural habitat or providing new habitat, that we create.
How to help create habitat for cavity nesting bees
As part of the class I went to, I was provided with two bee nesting boxes (pollinator
‘mailboxes’) made from milk cartons and paper tubes. In exchange, I will participate in a citizen science initiative to help track the kinds of cavity nesting bees we’re seeing in our region, around Seattle in the Pacific Northwest. The nesting boxes have a variety of sizes of tubes in order to attract a variety of bees. It wouldn’t be difficult to make these yourself out of painted milk cartons, paper tubes and a way to stand it off the ground. However, if you’re not up for a project, it’s so easy to get a kit. Here’s where I talk about my first mason bee house. There are some great kits that are ready to go and you can either see who may show up or actually get some bees as well.
In 2016, for the first time, bees were added to the endangered species list in the United States. 7 species of Hawaiian yellow-faced bees, native to Hawaii, were added. Then in early 2017, the first bee to be placed on the endangered species list by the Fish and Wildlife Service in the continental US was the rusty patched bumblebee. At the time of this writing the new administration in the White House had put this one on hold.
The Rusty Patched Bumblebee
Rusty patched bumblebees are the first bee in the continental US to be placed on the endangered species list for federal protection. This species has undergone an incredibly rapid decline by almost 90% in the last two decades. These large, furry-looking bumble bees used to be a common sight in most of North America, but this is no longer the case. They are essential pollinators of tomatoes, peppers, blueberries and other important crops.
Bees on the Endangered Species List
According to the Fish and Wildlife Service, once a species is on the list, it is easier for them to create partnerships and gather resources towards the goal of saving the endangered population. In the case of bees, this is no simple task. The decline of this bee (and also that of many other bee species worldwide) is thought to be caused by a combination of factors: diseases, lack of habitat, climate change and, of course, harmful pesticides and insecticides especially neonicotinoids. Neonicotinoids are used in products for gardens, farm crops and pets. Continue reading Bees on the Endangered Species List→
Luckily there are lots of places online where you can see gorgeous pictures of people making flawless beeswax candles. This post will not be that. Despite all the easily accessible information out there, I decided to go at it blind. I ordered 5 lbs. of pure beeswax from a local online retailer. It arrived at my house in a bag of little yellow pellets. How hard could making beeswax candles be? Well it turns out it was a lot more difficult than I thought.
Making Beeswax Candles
I had a vague memory of making lovely odd-shaped candles as gifts while in college. They were smooth, pear-shaped lovelies. My plan was that my daughter and I would whip up a quick batch as holiday gifts. I dove in blind, melted the wax in an old pot and started dipping away. It quickly became clear that we were missing some key piece of information that would have allowed our candles to look like, well, candles. Instead we got charming, but very lumpy blobs that I tried not to refer to as turds. Continue reading A First Attempt at Making Beeswax Candles→
The starter kit for Leafcutter bees from Crown Bees is called Beehaven and is a super inexpensive way to give raising native bees a try. It is the cheapest kit on their site at only 24.95. This includes a small bee house, paper tubes for the bees to nest in and 30 actual leafcutter bee cocoons. The kit comes with a certificate that you can redeem on the website to get your bees shipped to you when you want them and when they will thrive in your area. As I talked about last time, Leafcutter bees need quite warm weather. The Beehaven kit is very easy to mount. It is plastic and shaped like a miniature mailbox. The kit also comes with several tubes for the bees to nest in. The instructions suggest putting the bees inside the house with the cloth bag open when you first set it up. However this house is so TINY, that there wasn’t room for all the tubes and the bag on top. I ended up taking out a few of the tubes and sort of shoving the bee bag in. I (hopefully) didn’t squash any of the bees, as most cocoons were empty after about a week. Continue reading Review: Crown Bees Bee Haven Starter Kit for Leafcutter Bees→
There are two kinds of bees easily available online in the US and Canada that will come right to your mailbox in the regular mail: Mason bees and Leafcutter bees. I had a lot of fun setting up my first bee house and watching the mason bees go to town this spring. They don’t live long though and finally the weather here in the Pacific Northwest has gotten just about warm enough for Leafcutter bees. I bet you can’t guess how these gals protect the eggs they lay? They cut leaves to protect each egg.
As we’ve learned, here at Bees and Wax, there are thousands of kinds of bees beyond the honey bee. These are solitary bees that do not live in hives or make honey, but they do the amazing work of pollinating, so we all can EAT. Thanks again bees! Anyway, leafcutter bees are little, smaller than the Mason bee and need hot weather. They prefer it in the 80s (Fahrenheit), but the packaging from Crown Bees says they need it at least over 70 F. They use nesting tubes just like Mason bees, but instead of packing their eggs in mud, they use tiny pieces of leaves that they cut and carry to their nesting tubes or holes. Continue reading Welcome Leafcutter Bees→
What better way to learn about honey bees than by watching movies? Luckily there are quite a few very good documentaries about the bees. When I first became excited to learn all I could I hit the library and checked out the entire row of books dedicated to bees and beekeeping, as I talked about here. I learned a lot from the books, but I ran out of time and several went back to the library barely skimmed.
Watching a movie is just plain old fun, even when you’re learning about a complex subject. These three films are about much more than just bee anatomy, beekeeping and honey. Since honey bees and entire beehives began dying and disappearing about a decade ago, what is now called Colony Collapse Disorder, anyone involved in beekeeping or concerned with our planet has been on a serious mission to get to the bottom of this alarming situation. These three films are no exception. Each one takes a slightly different approach, but all have similar aims of educating us about what is going on and what can be done to make it better. Spoiler alert: Human’s are at fault. It’s actually more intense than you might imagine, going into this world of interaction between us and honeybees. But hopefully you will come away with a better understanding of the state of things, the issues we are currently facing, and possibly an interest in getting involved on your own
Queen of The Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us?
My favorite of these three is Queen of The Sun: What Are the Bees Telling Us? directed by Taggart Siegel. It is actually free to watch on Amazon Prime, if you have that. All of these films can most likely be found at your local library as well. This is a fascinating journey into what has caused Colony Collapse Disorder. We get to hear from many beekeepers and scientists at the forefront of this worldwide crisis best natural weight loss supplements. We see organic beekeepers in France, Germany, Australia and the US and hear their differing opinions and relationships to bees.
We see how very recent human intervention through mechanisation, monoculture and chemical products may be forever changing the viability of bees. Continue reading 3 Movies about Honey Bees: A Fun Way to Learn About Bees→
It’s been more than one month since I set up my first mason bee house. It took about five days for all of the 20 bee cocoons to hatch and get started with their very short lives. If you’d like to see what they looked like when I got them IN THE MAIL, look here. Solitary bees only live about 5-6 weeks. This means that all of those bees are most likely already dead. As of today, they have filled and capped 23 of the tubes in the mason bee house. They were awfully busy for about a month, gathering pollen and nectar and bringing it to the tubes, packing it in with the eggs so the larvae had food.
Mason Bee Timeline: How to Keep Over the Summer
Setting up a house for mason bees is super easy, but you’ll have to time it right. Here in the Pacific Northwest, mason bees are put out in April and slow down by May. In the meantime the females have gathered their pollen and nectar mix, laid about 6-8 eggs per tube and caked those shut with mud.
The eggs will then hatch and the larvae will feed off the pollen and nectar throughout the summer. After the the tubes or holes are plugged up and there is no more activity, it is best to store your filled holes. This will protect your growing bees from pests, birds and parasitic wasps. These little bee larvae are a tasty treat for them and the larvae are not as secure as they seem, even packed in all that mud.
The hallways of my daughter’s elementary school are so covered in kid-made posters and so crowded with actual kids and parents after school, that I usually notice very little on my way to her classroom to pick her up. But something caught my eye this week. I spied the words Colony Collapse Disorder on a marker-drawn poster! What?! I then discovered several more posters about how to save our bees throughout the halls. It turns out that a 3rd grade class had done a project on the ways we can all help save our bees.
In an ideal situation bee hives will survive the winter, staying dry and warm and feeding on plenty of honey or sugar solution. However, this is often not the case these days and beekeepers need to replace lost hives in the spring. Around 90% of managed bees in the U.S. are used in California to pollinate the insanely huge amounts of almond orchards. After this is done, some are packaged up in boxes and sold throughout the country. If you buy honey bees, they are called package bees and come in a box with mesh sides, a can of food (sugar or corn syrup water) and a queen. There are usually about 20,000 – 30, 000 bees per box, which is about 3 pounds of bees. The queen is separated in a small box. This gives the bees time to get used to her and hopefully to accept her as their queen.
I just observed the process of installing packages into hives and learned quite a bit. First the queen is taken out (still in her little cage) and set aside. It is clear whether she has been accepted or not, by the behavior of the bees that are on her cage. If they are calm and not acting aggressively towards the cage, all should be good. Continue reading You Can Buy Honey Bees: Package Bees→
My mason bees arrived a day early! They came in the mail, as if they were not living creatures. In a regular cardboard box, along with the cardboard nesting tubes I had ordered. The actual bees were in a teeny tiny cardboard box about the size of a thick slice of butter. The instructions from Crown Bees said to cool them in the refrigerator right away.
The information explained what to do if a few of the males had already come out of their cocoons. It said, “This shows that they are healthy, strong and lookin’ for a little lovin’.” That little lovin’ will mean death for the males, so hopefully they get at least a few days to enjoy life out of the cocoon.
My daughter and I took a peak into the tiny box, and two little guys were indeed already out. You can purchase something called a Humidibee for this purpose, but I had not. So we jabbed some holes in an old hummus container, popped the required sugar-soaked cotton ball in (for nourishment), covered it all with a brown paper bag, and there they went into the fridge, right between the strawberries and leftover soup. Apparently they can live up to five weeks out of the cocoon if they’re kept cold so they don’t move around. This seems crazy to me, but my experience level with all of this is, shall we say, at the beginning stages.