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If you have ever wondered how to raise wild bees, for whatever purpose then thumbs up and welcome aboard. We are here to discuss all you ever need to know about keeping wild bees. This knowledge will allow you to become a part of a community that strives to make the world a better place by conserving nature and all its rich resources, encompassing all kinds of creatures with wild bees included.
Wild bees are important pollinators and some of the most vital insects that form the cornerstone of our ecosystem. In recent times, there has been increased conservation effort across the globe benefiting honeybees but without much attention paid to wild bees which are just as important.
Wild bees are easy to raise and as you will come to know, require the least maintenance and support from the beekeeper. These solitary bees do not require a support system such as a colony in order to survive and thrive, but rather a female will raise her young on her own. They are exceptional pollinators that surpass the honeybees when it comes to pollination efficiency. Ultimately, if you consider the bottom line, it will make more sense to raise wild bees for pollination services rather than honeybees for the same purpose. A disclaimer though, each of these bees comes with its benefits and neither is superior to the other in terms of their importance to the natural environment.
Spring: Bee House Set Up
The preparation of the wild bee house during spring is an important activity. It will make it possible for you to raise your wild bees without any worries, and this ultimately translates to better harvests. The main purpose of building a bee house is to enhance the pollination of your garden through the work of solitary wild bees.
The bee house is also referred to as a bee or insect hotel and can be compared to birdhouses. They are mainly designed to attract wild bees. These bees are more efficient pollinators when compared to honeybees and usually exist as solitary bees. By that, it means, a single female will raise an entire generation of future wild bees, without the need for a colony.
You can hugely boost the quality of your flower garden, enjoy better yields from your crops, and get better vegetables when you raise wild bees. The bee house makes it possible to raise wild bees, improve their lives and ultimately enhance your life too.
You have so many options when it comes to building a bee house for your wild bees. These include:
- Wooden structure with holes
- Use hollow bamboo or reeds
- Use cardboard with bee-sized holes
The process of building an ideal wild bee house is easy and straightforward and can be done within the comfort of your own home. You may also consider purchasing online. Many online stores exist and will offer a wide variety of wild bee houses for you to choose from.
Important points regarding setting up the wild bee house in spring:
- Ensure the bee house is well sheltered.
- Untreated wood is ideal for wild bee house construction.
- Place the bee house not less than 3 feet off the ground.
- Drill holes of various sizes to accommodate all kinds of wild bees.
- For starters, 12 to 18 holes in a single house is ideal.
- Smoothen out the interior of the holes to make the space comfortable for the wild bees.
- The bee house should be replaced at least after two years.
- Natural wood is recommended, hence no need to paint a wild bee house.
- If you have multiple bee houses, then keep them properly spaced within the backyard to avoid clustering them within a single location.
Once you have acquired your wild bee house, then it is important to understand what attracts wild bees. The house should also be designed in a manner that will favour the wild bees. You should therefore have these in mind when setting up the wild bee house during spring:
The right size
The wild bee house should be of an ideal size. A house that is too large or extremely small will make it hard to properly manage your wild bees. It will also make no sense to build a large one that can easily attract predators and invaders. In terms of maintenance, bee houses require regular maintenance, which means changing nesting materials, harvesting wild bee cocoons, management of pests and parasites, and many others. It will be also important to consider your locality when considering the size of the wild bee house. Areas with an unlimited supply of nectar and pollen can sustain bigger bee houses unlike those with fewer flowering plants.
Shed or Shelter from the Elements and Predators
Wild bees portray similar behaviour as honeybees. They require a dry and safe place to live and anything other than this will mean disaster to the bees. The ideal bee house should therefore shelter the wild bees from the elements such as wind and rain. The structure should be fitted with a solid outer cover with an overhang that will allow rainwater to flow off the house. This will protect the nesting materials from coming into direct contact with water. Additionally, wild bees are a target of many predators that include birds and wasps. It is therefore wise to guarantee the safety of the wild bees from them. An ideal way is to cover the entire wild bee structure with a wire cloth while ensuring the entrances are not obstructed.
Wild bees tend to be attracted to materials they are familiar with. Consequently, the best materials for building wild bee nests should be locally available materials. It is also important to ensure the materials are of the right size. For instance, you can use cardboard tubes or lake reeds to raise your wild bees. Bamboo is used in some cases but is not the best for wild bees since it is tightly packed making it impossible for moisture to escape. This can affect the growing bees. As for size, the ideal size is 6 inches long with a diameter of between 4 to 10 inches. You might also combine several nesting materials types under one bee house. That way, the wild bees will have options to choose from. Local wild bees are highly selective hence the need to avail a wide variety of nesting materials.
Bee House Location
Wild bee behaviour is hugely affected by prevailing weather conditions. An early sun can help infuse some energy into the bees so that they can fly and begin their normal working activities. The house should thus face the early sun and if you have more than one bee house within the same location then the entrances should face different locations. The house should also be well sheltered from direct sun during the afternoon.
Fall & Winter: Remove & Protect
Seasonally, there are two types of wild bees, spring bees which grow over winter in a cocoon and emerge sometime from early spring to late spring they come out as fully grown adults. The other set of bees hibernate over winter as larvae and use the heat of the early summer to change from larva to adult bee and then come out in May through August to September.
Reasons for Removal and Protection
The major reason for removal and protection is to prevent infestation of pests and parasites that terrorize the bee nests. Some of these include the Monodontomerus, also known as Mono which is a very small parasitic wasp which attacks bee nests, feasting on the larva and cocoon of hibernating bees. Other parasites include:
- Pollen mites, which feed on the pollen stored in the bee cocoons slowly starving the bees. They spread quickly and if not handled they turn bee nests into bee cemeteries.
- Chalkbrood, which is a tiny little spore that looks like a grain and the only way to get rid of this pest is to harvest these cocoons during fall.
Removing the nesting materials will also help protect the larva from birds and other insects that like to feed on the hibernating bees.
Another reason for the removal of the nests and cocoons during the fall and winter is to protect the bees from the intense cold. Most wild bees do not survive this hard season due to freezing over. Mason bees normally are built to survive the cold as their cocoons are hard and brittle but bees such as leafcutter bees which use leaves and petals for cocoons, find it hard to survive the cold as their covers provide little to no protection. The materials used to nest the bees also tend to spoil or decay if left out in the cold watery outdoors and it is thus advisable to store them away until summer or springtime.
When to Remove Nesting Holes
Nesting holes are normally removed during late fall or early winter after the bees have started their hibernation process and have been extracted and stored. The nests are first opened up to remove all larvae, cocoons and parasites. Once the cocoons have been cleaned and stored, you may proceed to clean the nesting holes. Wooden blocks are sometimes run through a flame to ensure that all the debris remaining in the holes is extinguished. This is a very effective way of both cleaning and sanitizing the nests. Other options include cleaning the nesting holes with bleach water, rinsing and leaving them out to dry. The nests are then stored safely in a clean cool dry place.
Storing the holes also prevents other insects from nesting there during winter. Once early spring has begun, the nests can be returned to their original position and the bees released back into the nests. It’s highly advisable to ensure the nests face the sunrise as it improves bee energy and increases their activity. You may also [plant flowers and vegetables in anticipation of the bees emerging from their cocoons.
Sometimes you may need to remove unoccupied holes from the nest so as to prevent squirting insects and pests. This can be done by first running a stick or rod in the hole, if the stick reaches the other far end, this hole may be removed and reused on the next harvest. If pests overrun certain tubes or holes, it’s also advisable to remove the affected nests to prevent the fungi or pests from spreading into unaffected areas.
It’s important to also use nests that are easy to remove, clean and store so as to minimize any sort of loss that occurs during this process.
How to Remove Wild Bee Nests
The process of removal is pretty simple and direct. For bamboo and natural reeds, you can just take them out of the nest and gently place them in a container starting from the top one. For wooden blocks, you can simply take the blocks as they are and later disassemble them one after the other as they are piled. Blocks are the better choice as they are easy to put together and dismantle, which makes them reusable and thus economically the smarter choice. It is also advisable to clean the nesting house used to cover the tubes.
To open bamboo tubes, you are required to gently break them which renders them useless as they cannot be reused. During this process, a lot of the cocoons are damaged and thus this material is not particularly advisable. Carton as a material makes it easy for other insects to burrow their way inside making it another unadvisable option, as whatever is left of the weak material falls apart during removal.
Natural reeds are a better replacement as it is both natural and better serve the purpose of hosting the bees.
Manage Wild Bee Nesting Materials
Most wild bee species prefer to nest in above-ground cavities or tunnels. This includes tree cavities or hollow plants. The introduction of manmade tubes such as cardboard and wood trays has proven to be some of the favourite nesting points for these bees. Providing these nesting houses and holes is essential to keeping a healthy bee population as the more bees the more pollination thus increasing vegetation, especially for your gardens. Most wild bees are solitary, thus each female chooses its own nest in which to lay its eggs and build cocoons.
Building your own bee hotel/nest is advisable. Just make sure it’s above the ground and over a shade. The bee hotel should have a roof that covers the house completely and overhangs a little. You may partition it if you’d like so as to test different tubes before deciding which is best for you.
Hollow tubes are mainly built from plant stems, bamboo, cardboard or wood. Wooden trays are also commonly used instead of tubes. Close one end leaving the other end open, this end will be sealed off using clay or mud after the bee has finished preparing its cocoons. The nesting material should be strong and durable withstanding minor loads, wind pressure and harsh weather conditions. You’re encouraged to use different shapes of tubes so as to help the bees remember their particular nest.
For wood nesting holes, use untreated wood or old tree stems. Drill holes into the wood ensuring they are of different diameters. The nests should be facing southeast for direct contact with the sunrise and should be located near vegetation or pollen-rich plants.
Early Spring: Harvest Wild Cocoons
For protection against pests and parasites, constant maintenance on your wild bee house will be required. Extra protection that involves fencing may also be applicable.
Cleaning of Wild Bee Houses
Items required include:
- A toothbrush or any other soft brush
- Clean water
- Trash bug
- Pipe cleaner
Firstly, ensure no cocoons are in the tube then shake off the debris inside the pipes. Dip the tubes in bleached water (only use a teaspoon of bleach per 2 litres of water). Using the brush and pipe, scrub the tubes gently being careful not to break them. Once clean, rinse the pipes in clean water. Sundry the tubes in an elevated place away from insects and dirt. Cleaning should be done over winter when the bees are in hibernation so as not to interrupt their work. Avoid using any nesting material that easily breaks when extracting the cocoons. This type of material leads to the loss of a lot of cocoons during harvesting and due to congestion encourages insects and parasites to thrive.
Wild Bee Cocoon Harvesting
Wild bee cocoon harvesting is a method of reducing pest infestation and maintaining the steady growth of young bees. Nesting holes are for this reason provided to attract bees, since these manmade holes are closely knit together, they attract a lot of pests, thus harvesting and providing fresh nesting holes is important.
The attention on wild bee harvesting has been gradually increasing due to the never-ending need for pollination. Wild bees are mostly solitary bees that spend their lives pollinating and creating cocoons for their young. It’s a continuous cycle of pollination, hibernation, and emergence. Solitary bees are known for their peacefulness as they do not have hives to protect thus spend their life cycle, which is about 6 weeks, reproducing and pollinating. Wild bees increase productivity by up to 8 times and ensure a variety of options for your garden.
The major reasons for harvesting cocoons are:
- Prevent and control the spread of parasitic wasps that make their way into the nests.
- Reduce the spread of diseases such as fungi.
- Keep out parasitic pollen mites that eat the pollen thus starving the bees.
When left unchecked, these parasites, diseases, and pests compromise the growth of the bees and lead to a drastically fewer number of bees every season.
Harvesting of wild bee cocoons is to be done in early spring just when dandelions have begun to bloom. While harvesting, it’s advisable to take inventory of all healthy bee cocoons and unhealthy pest numbers. This helps you get aware of the native bees around you and their enemy thus gaining knowledge on how to best protect your bees.
How to Harvest Wild Bee Cocoons
Open up the nesting holes and remove all healthy cocoons. Clean the cocoons either by immersing them in bleached water (if the cocoon is waterproof e.g., mason bee cocoons) or brush off debris. Dry the cocoons and place them in a clean container or guard bag, ensuring it’s breathable. Store the cocoons in an unheated storage area waiting for them to emerge. Most times the male bees are the first to break free from their cocoons, once you notice this, place the cocoons back into their nests.
Harvesting is a bit different depending on the nesting material used:
- From bamboo – harvesting from bamboo is done by breaking the bamboo with your hands or a sharp object and carefully removing the contents.
- From natural reeds – open the top of the reed by nipping the edge and peeling it open. These are some of the easiest to open and thus a very favourable option.
- From wooden blocks – wooden blocks are built in a way that you can just disassemble them by simply lifting each, one after the other. Firstly, remove the rubber band holding them together, and disassemble the blocks which are normally between 6-10. If the trays are stuck, use a screwdriver to lift them up. When reassembling, ensure the cocoons are centrally placed in the gaps before pushing the trays back onto each other.
- From cardboard – opening cardboard tubes is done similarly to that of reeds. Just nip the top with your nail and peel the paper will by itself unravel.
If you find exposed or undeveloped larvae, these are bees that have not yet fully matured. Keep them in a guard bug and store them a bit longer occasionally checking in.
Tools you may require for harvesting include:
- Guard bag or any breathable container
- Bee harvesting comb or any similar object available.
- Flat screwdriver and any other household appliances that may be applicable.
You can easily be able to identify the used holes as one end will be fitted with mud, clay, or leaves. Each wild bee species has cues that instantly tell them when to emerge. Storing should be in an easily accessible location so as to keep a close eye on the cocoons.
Take notes of both the time and the conditions under which your bees emerge as this may defer from place to place depending on temperature and other factors. Identify any pests or parasites commonly affecting your bee nests keeping a record of this too. This information will guide you during your harvests and help boost your successful bee emergence numbers.
Releasing Wild Bee Cocoons
Releasing wild bee cocoons simply entails taking them out of hibernation and placing them into their nests to wait for them to emerge. This is mainly done during the end of April and beginning of May, latest by mid-May. While in hibernation, the bees live off their body fat and once they emerge they require some pollen and heat to recharge and acquire energy to now begin their adult lives. Before releasing the bees, ensure that the bee house is free of pests or parasites and clean it if not. If you had removes the nesting trays or tubes, reinstall them and place them randomly according to shape and size. If it’s possible, ensure plenty of flowers surround the nest, this provides ample food for the bees and encourages them to stick around.
Once removed from storage, separate the males from the females. The females normally are larger and thus have larger cocoons than the male. The ratio of males to females should be around 6:4 and this is why we separate them out so as to keep track of our ratios. It is important to be gentle so as not to puncture the cocoons, killing off the hosts.
Also, check for unhealthy or premature cocoons which may need a bit more time to hatch and set them aside. As stated above, releasing your bees in two ways is a smart move as it will prolong the pollination period. Once the males emerge, they wait for the female and thereafter they mate. The female then chooses a tube to nest in where she carefully lays an egg, places some pollen and encloses the egg in a cocoon. For cocoons, some bees use moist clay, others chewed-up vegetation, tree resins or even cactus. The bee will lay several eggs in one cube, ranging from 5 to even 10.
Place the cocoons in a small container and put it on the roof right above the tubes of the bee house, ensuring to leave some space for them to come out of. Once the bees start to emerge they may not move a lot, this is because they are extremely weak but after some time, they will be up and about.
At times, spring might come late. For such a situation, store your bees in a refrigerator making sure to use a cocoon humidifier so as to ensure the cocoons do not dry up. If the climatic conditions in your area are hard to predict, you will know when to release the bees by the temperature levels. Once the temperatures are at least 13°C to 24°C (approximately 55°F) and the vegetation has started to bloom, it’s time.
Wild Bee Cocoon Emergence
Releasing wild bees is the act of taking them out of storage and placing them back into their bee nests from where they will emerge from their cocoons and begin their spring activities. For most bee species, the male bee is the first to emerge. When you notice this, it’s now time to release your bees. Male wild solitary bees are recognized for their significantly smaller bodies and for some (such as leafcutter bees), the lack of a stinger.
Most wild bees are solitary bees that nest in cavities readily available where they spend most of their lives from eggs to full-grown adults where they then emerge. Bees mostly choose their nesting spot close to or where they emerged. This is why it’s encouraged to place your bees in your nest before the females emerge so as to encourage them to come back to nest there. This is however not guaranteed as from their name, wild bees tend to be wild and may choose another place to nest and hatch their young once. Bees can take up to about two and a half weeks to emerge and thus patience is required. Some bees may be slower to develop and even take up to almost four weeks. This should not discourage you, instead, keep this bee in a slightly warmer environment to slowly prompt them to emerge.
In preparation for the bee emergence, plant and cultivate various crops, flowers, fruits and/or vegetables to encourage the bees to stick around and keep a busy nest in your garden. Lack of preparation may provoke your bees to nest elsewhere.
To be ready for bee emergence you will require:
- Bee house – this is a cover that protects the tube holes or cubes in which the bees nest in. The nest should be about 1.5m off the ground (around your eye level). Keeping the bees off the ground protects them from ground predators and insects. For bird protection, you may cover your house with wire mesh or barbed wire that has holes large enough for bees but too small for birds to penetrate. As for location, ensure the bees’ nest faces the sunrise. Bees are cold-blooded animals and as a result, they require warmth in order to activate and energise them. If the area is windy, providing wind protection is important as bees find it hard to mauve through the breeze. Provide a bit of room at the top for the bees to emerge.
- Bee nesting tubes/trays – Different bees prefer different nesting diameters for their holes. This is because some cocoons and bees are bigger than others. This should be considered while deciding which wild bee you would prefer to raise. For most bees about 8-10mm in diameter is best.
The materials used to make the tubes should:
- Be relatively strong to withstand the bee load and load from other tubes.
- Durable enough to withstand adverse weather conditions.
- Breathable at one end and sealed at the other. This will prevent over-infestation of parasites and pests.
- Easy to open – the tubes should be easy to open so as to minimise the number of damaged cocoons that occurs during harvesting.
- Economical – so as to reduce the cost of buying new tubes every season, one should look into purchasing a more permanent and easy-to-maintain option such as wooden trays which can be cleaned, dried and reused.
- Easily available – it’s advisable to find a material that is easily available in your location.
How to Make Wild Bees Thrive
For wild bees to thrive in your garden, you will need to provide a conducive environment that encourages them to not only nest but remain within the property. This includes:
- Earth rich in clay soil – most wild bees prefer to use mud/clay to seal up their nests. The soil around your garden should portray some adhesive qualities that may mimic that of clay.
- Warm temperature – wild bees prefer warm environments which range from at least 13°C to 24°C (this is about 55°F). The warmth activates the bees, the earlier the sunrise the faster the bees get back to work.
- Pollen-rich vegetation – bees require a lot of pollen, thus blooming flowers from your garden is the best way to keep them enticed, with native plants being the best. Native plants are plants that have evolved over a long period of time, mostly hundreds of years. This has in turn led to these native plants acquiring a lot of nutrients. Bees just like other animals, need food energy and native plants provide all the energy needed.
- Keep a variety of fruits and vegetation so as to promote cross-pollination. Wild bees are power pollinators and will double your production every season while keeping your garden evergreen and ever-beautiful with continuous blooms. Bee pollination has been known to reduce fruit growing time while increasing its size.
Ensure to avoid all manmade chemicals, they deter the bees and may even force them out of the compound. The strong smell and effect on the soil distorts the bee and disorients them causing them to not locate their nests. The chemical-rich pollen also introduces illnesses to the bees. It also leads to an increased number of male bees.
If you wish to extend your bee season period, you may first release half the bees while storing the other half in a refrigerator for about 2-3 weeks before releasing them. Just make sure you release all bees in time to do all they are required before it’s time for hibernation.
Key Points on Raising Wild Bees
A lot of things should be considered when deciding to raise wild bees. These include:
- Type of bee – different wild bees prefer different conditions in order to thrive and understanding your bee’s needs improves their chances.
- Reason for beekeeping -Wild bees are better known for pollination, but for honey purposes, one should go for honeybees.
- Type of vegetation in your area.
- Nature of temperature around your area.
If weather permits, some bees such as leafcutter bees can have multiple generations per season. Once you adopt the bee harvesting ways, you’re on the road to helping the world gain more pollinators back.
There might be tremendously numerous species of bees in the U.S. but over 50% of them are endangered, meaning they are slowly becoming extinct. This has prompted human intervention as these bees are an essential part of our ecosystem.
Using a naturally occurring bee house is also permitted but manmade houses are mostly recommended as they are easy to set up and clean. Also ensure you install the house strategically to avoid heavy breeze and rainfall, preferably just below your house eves.
Raising wild bees is not only beneficial to you as a farmer. It is also a very important service to the Earth. Wild bees might not be big on honey production, but they serve an even more important role in pollination. This bee has a 95% pollination rate, which means that of 100 flowers the bee visits, 95 of those will be properly pollinated to produce seeds and fruits. Honeybees on the other hand, only have a 5% pollination rate.
The bees beautify your garden, lawn and home. Wild bees are peaceful, pet-safe and kid-safe insects so you will not have to worry about bee stings. The skills required to raise these bees are very minimal as they do most of the work for you, all that is required is patience.
Something else to note is that bees tend to avoid open water because they might drown. To provide the bees with water in this case, you will have to use a shallow plate and place it on a ground level you have noticed bees constantly pass through or visit. You may also place small pebbles in the water to provide a place for the bees to rest as they hydrate.
Raising wild bees can either start by building a bee house and planting flowers and waiting for bees to be attracted into the compound or better yet, you can acquire bee cocoons, placing them in the bee house and letting them hatch there. This will encourage the bees to continuously nest in your garden for generations to come.