Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Solitary bees for pollination

Solitary bees, unlike the honeybee, are natives to the United States. According to ScienceDaily, as the honeybee crisis worsens solitary bees may be able to fill the hole left behind. The Texas Agricultural Experiment Station is studying the kinds of nesting boxes that will attract various kinds of native bees:

If you build it, they will come. Native bees that is. And when native bees do come, they may be a hundred times more efficient as pollinators than are honeybees, said Jeff Brady, research assistant with the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station.

Solitary bees don't make honey or beeswax, but they do have advantages over the honeybee. They are adapted for pests and diseases present here in the U.S., and as they don't live in colonies they aren't vulnerable to Colony Collapse Disorder. Best of all, the average homeowner can host solitary bees without expensive equipment, time-consuming maintenance, or stings.

The gentle blue-black Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia Lignaria) is a solitary bee native to most of the continental U.S. and was pollinating fruits and flowers here for eons before European colonists brought the honeybee with them to North America. A few hundred Orchard Mason bees can pollinate an acre of apple trees.

Orchard Mason bees are even less likely to sting than the honeybee*, as they have no colony to defend. Bees are attracted only to flowers -- not to sweet drinks or food -- and when you're working in your garden they'll peaceably just work along beside you. Even if your yard is small, you like to entertain outdoors, or you have young children, you can invite Orchard Mason bees and most other native wild bees into your backyard without fear. Lisa over at Dry Ideas has a great post about how to Make Your Own Solitary Bee House, or you can buy a bee shelter and bees at Knox Cellars. Check out the Knox bee shelters in particular -- they offer replaceable paper liners that bring yearly maintenance time requirements down to nearly zero. I'm ordering one of these today.

* The honeybee- lookalike yellowjacket is the likely culprit in most backyard "bee stings," as unlike bees, the aggressive yellowjacket is attracted to sweet drinks, food, and garbage. That's the honeybee on the left, yellowjacket on the right. Stings from actual honeybees are almost always the result of venturing too close to the colony/hive (which may make the bees think you're attacking the colony -- especially if you swat at the bees when they come to investigate), stepping on a bee, or getting one caught in your clothing.


kale for sale said...

This is great information and doable even for someone with an eensy backyard like mine. Thank you.

valereee said...

kale for sale, you're welcome! FYI, Knox offers (besides the Orchard Mason bees) another species, Osmia Californicus, which are native to the western half of the country.

Veggie Option said...

Thanks for the info!

Lise Mahnke said...

Great post and thanks for the link.

solitary-bee said...

Great little article. I like the emphasis on the fact that they are safe to be around. The females are in a real hurry to deposit the pollen, lay the egg/larva and seal the cell. I have shot a bit of footage of the competition that gets intense between them to own the stores they have created. So no worry for humans, my nephew even enjoyed helping to make the brown paper straws (which they took to) - all round its a great little eco-project for gardeners and/or kids alike.