These creatures are essential for the health of our planet.
What are we talking about? Solitary bees.
According to the charity, BugLife, one out of every three mouthfuls of our food depends on pollinators, and the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology has found that solitary bees are twice as likely to pollinate the flowers they visit as their more sociable counterparts. Yet wild bee populations in general across the country are in decline; with disease, habitat loss, climate change and pesticides all being blamed.
What can you do to help solitary bees in your garden?
As their name suggests, solitary bees don’t live in colonies like honeybees do. Instead they raise their young on their own. In the natural world they look for holes or tunnels in soil, sand, clay, or wood; whatever they can find. You might see them flying towards the wall of your house and scurrying into a little cavity that’s naturally appeared in the mortar between your bricks.
However, newbuild house designs, loss of countryside to roads and infrastructure, and more of us preferring ornamental gardens and paving slabs to wild meadows in our back gardens, is all resulting in this loss of natural habitat. Instead you can help solitary bees and encourage them to lay their eggs in your garden by placing a specifically designed Solitary Bee House to attract them.
What is a solitary bee?
There are around 224 species of solitary bee in Britain, which means more than 90 per cent of our bees are solitary species. They are particularly beneficial to your garden because they are such good pollinators for flowers, veg patches, allotments, and orchards. They are also benign and non-aggressive, so they are safe around children and pets.
Solitary bees fall into two categories, cavity nesters and mining bees. Their names are the giveaway but essentially mining bees excavate nesting tunnels in the ground, ‘mining’ into light sandy soils and leaving their eggs underground. Whereas cavity nesting bees, including mason, leaf-cutter and carder bees, prefer to use existing cavities like holes in old logs, bricks and wood.
What is a solitary bee house?
A solitary bee house or hive is designed to attract these cavity bees; with easy-to-access entrances leading into short tunnels into which a female solitary bee can lay her eggs. Each bee will typically lay lots of eggs in the same tunnel, filling it up. They lay their eggs in the spring and summer and each of the eggs is given a sack of pollen which the larva will then eat through to gain enough strength to break their way out of the house come springtime the following year.
You can often tell which sort of cavity bees you are attracting to your solitary bee house because you will notice how they seal off the ends of the tubes. Leaf-cutter bees obviously use leaves, mixed together with their saliva to make a sticky paste. And Mason bees use mud and soil to do the job. In fact, inside each tunnel every egg is separated by this sack of pollen and either leaves or mud to produce separate chambers for each larva.
Which bee house should I buy?
Original Solitary Bee Hive
Constructed from durable FSC-certified timber, the Solitary Bee Hive can be opened, giving you easy access for inspection and cleaning at the end of the summer. The hole sizes are proven perfect for attracting female mason and leaf-cutter bees to lay their eggs.
Interactive Solitary Bee Hive
Or go one better with the new Interactive Solitary Bee Hive. Its hinged lid reveals a Perspex layer under which you can view the baby bee eggs and larvae without disturbing the bees during the breeding season. It’s fascinating to see inside their secret world and to show and educate children about this phenomenally important species.
How can I build my own solitary bee house?
If you would like to make your own solitary bee house then simply drill a piece of wood with holes measuring from 8mm to 1cm across in diameter. Try to offer a variety of holes for the bees, and again pop it somewhere where it catches the sun in a south facing position.
Simon says “It’s as simple as that really, and it’s wonderful. You will see these little guys flitting from flower to flower doing a marvellous job of ensuring the health of the planet as a whole so do you very best to encourage them and give them a home.”
Where should I place my solitary bee house?
We always recommend placing your solitary beehive so that it is facing south easterly in a sunny spot in your garden. Bees like warmth! You can place it anywhere from ground level to around two metres high. A brick or stone wall is ideal because the warmth that the wall radiates will also attract the bees, but a fence post, wood or concrete wall will also be fine. You may also want to place it near to flowering plants or grow flowers around it. This helps to attract the bees but also provide food for them when they hatch.
What should I do after the summer weather has gone?
Solitary bees tend to have completed their breeding cycles by the end of August when the weather starts to turn cold. The most important thing you can do is to protect your baby bees from rain. They don’t like to get wet. However, they do like a cool stable temperature. So, the best thing to do is to pop your solitary bee house inside a cold garage or porch. Sheltering them from the wet weather. If the bee house is going to remain outside, then you may want to cover the front with a sheet of chicken wire to stop predators like woodpeckers getting access. Come the springtime you can remove the wire and pop the bee house back outside ready for the baby bees to fly out.
If you want to go one step further with your solitary bee husbandry…
Both our original and new interactive Solitary Bee Houses allow for you to dismantle the entire house giving you the chance to clean it out and remove any parasites. If you do this, it’s best to remove the baby bees and pop them in a Tupperware type container in the fridge, garage or porchway over the winter where they will stay dry and cold. Clean out your beehive and then simply pop the eggs back into their tunnels come the start of spring and put the house back out in your garden.