Vince and I set up our first chemical free habitat for #Tennessee native solitary #bees between our blueberries and apple trees. This is part of our ongoing Bee Sanctuary Project at Half Hill Farm.
This first structure is 6 feet tall (8 feet counting the stone base) and is made from 8 inch sections of old downed trees on the farm, bamboo from a friend and neighbor and locally milled pine and cedar.
As we were filling the bottom section, a solitary leafcutter bee kept inspecting the whole thing, and it was such a joy to witness. Last year, we noticed our top pollinators weren’t honey bees. They were native solitary orchard masons and leafcutters. Honey bees didn’t show up until very late in the season and frantically scavenged the last of the organic Genovese Basil flowers.
One of the many ways we can help solve the problems we’ve created within honey bee colonies is to rely more on our native diversity of bees and other pollinators. The way we have treated honey bees within massive monocultures in conventional farming is an ongoing lesson in the mismanagement of our natural resources. Be a part of the solution and start a Bee Sanctuary of your own!
UPDATE 4-22-14: Here’s one of a few solitary orchard mason bees taking up residence in our native bee condo this Spring. They’ve been working some of the apple blossoms that made it through the recent Dogwood Winter frost.
The idea of starting a bee sanctuary at Half Hill Farm is taking on a life of its own.
As we weeded the garden before the rain, I caught this alfalfa leafcutter bee (pictured above) weaving in an out of the tomatoes. This and a couple other solitary bees were pollinating the buds of the Giant Beef Steaks and had taken up residence in the bamboo supports. We’ve seen more solitary bees than honey bees this year.
Hosting solitary bees is an obvious first step to bee keeping. They aren’t social (so no swarm), rarely sting, don’t make honey, and are great pollinators. Due to colony collapse disorder of hives, some experts are suggesting people start hosting solitary bees.
The idea of creating a bee sanctuary at the farm was inspired by May Berenbaum, Department Chair of Entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in this NPR story on bee deaths reaching a crisis point. Her suggestion: “Plant more flowers!”
Judging from the number of bumbling mason bees we have, I’d also suggest building more barns. We have to have about 15 of them turning the barn wood to swiss cheese, but they happen to be our #1 pollinator for our cucumbers. As we continue to plan a small sanctuary for both hives and solitary bees, we’re going to test placing a few of these simple mason bee condos to see if it creates a more hospitable alternative.