West Valley Bee and Bee

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by Skip Via

There are two common recommendations for maintaining and increasing the population of native bee species: plant native plants and provide a bee house of some kind so that the insects can overwinter or deposit their eggs and have a safe place for their larvae until the spring when they emerge. This article describes an attempt to do these as complementary processes.

In the image above, you see the beginnings of the Bee and Bee. The outer frame is scrounged barn wood from a neighbor’s property–with permission, of course. The tree segment came from another neighbor who was removing a dead tree from their yard. The small house was cobbled together from a commercial item that had fallen into disrepair. All are screwed or glued into the frame or back.

Our local bees nest in several different ways. Some bore into wood to create nests. Others find existing holes, others like to find a spot under forest detritus or bark, and others are ground nesters who might use existing mouse holes or even dig a spot for themselves. This project attempted to provide as many ways as possible to attract as many bees as possible. I drilled some additional holes in the tree segment and the thick frame boards, overlayed the inside back plywood with bark, stuffed some cones, rocks, moss and lichens into various crevices, and provided a variety of other cubby holes. The shelf fungus on the bottom is purely decorative.

After some trials with bark and other shingling options for the roof, I settled on using some thin copper sheeting to keep the rain out. It’s inexpensive, easy to work with, and it should weather and patinize nicely. Other than a couple of screws and the stanchions (next photo) it’s the only thing I purchased for this project.

The Bee and Bee open for business. I used cedar 2x4s for the stanchions to mount the house, buried 18″ deep and reinforced with hammered-in rocks. It’s recommended that bee houses be at least four feet off the ground to protect them from ants, who will break into the tubes and consume the larvae/eggs if the house is too close to the ground.

There are two other elements that are necessary to attract bees to a nesting site: the availably of water, and a source of dirt or mud so that some bees (mason bees in particular) can seal their tubes for the winter. I sunk a pottery base into the ground and filled with with rocks and sand. Bees need the rocks as a place to light when they are accessing the water, and butterflies prefer moist ground over open water, so I added both elements. The sand should help hold the water in as well. I’ll leave the soil under and around the Bee and Bee uncovered to provide a source of dirt for the bees that need it.

To provide more native plant species, we removed about 60 square feet of grass. We’ll plant some crocus bulbs fairly near the house (not native, but much beloved by the earliest emerging bees each spring) and fill the rest of the space with a few native grasses that pollinators like, lots of bee balm, blue flax, birch spirea, yarrow, columbines, evening primroses, a front border of kinnikinnick and cut-leaf daisies, and probably several things we haven’t thought of yet.
“Who are we?” “We’re gardeners!”
“What do we want?” “All the plants!”
“Where will we put them?” “We don’t know!”

Addendum,10/03/22: Here’s the final list:
Showy Aster
Blue Columbine
Red Columbine
Pearly Everlasting
Hairy Evening Primrose
Cutleaf Daisy
Birch Spirea
Prairie Junegrass
Tufted Hairgrass
Blue Flax
Golden Aster
Lyall’s Penstemon
Fuzzy-tongued Penstemon
Yellow Prairie Coneflower

The back of the house looked a bit stark, so we tacked up a few dead branches that were already hosting some lichens and stuffed some wolf lichen into some of the spaces in an effort to establish a little lichen farm. If this works, I may add some more structure to it to fill it out more.

So that’s the story of the West Valley Bee and Bee. It will probably take a couple of years for bees to discover and use it, but you have to start somewhere. Do you have a bee house? Is it working? Would you like to share some photos with us? Let me know.

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