Why are we working with native bees?
Most people are aware that our honeybees are facing a growing list of challenges. Beekeepers are trying to deal with each to make sure that there continues to be a good supply of pollinators. At the same time, they are taking a new look at a few of the thousands of native North American pollinator bees. Although these bees do not produce commercial honey, they have fewer problems and are far better pollinators. They also have a long history of being managed. The three best pollinating bees are: the mason bee, the alfalfa leafcutter bee, and the bumblebee.
This group of bees offers relatively easy management; they are everywhere and can assist with the pollination needed for our food supply. All three varieties rarely sting.
By putting a simple, affordable bee hive and some pollinating plants in their backyard, everyone can help protect this valuable natural resource.
The Mason Bee
There are hundreds of different types of orchard mason bees and they are in gardens everywhere. They are quite unlike honeybees in behavior and are managed differently. A solitary bee, they have no queen or worker bees, no community hives, no wax, and no large quantities of stored honey.
The adults forage and pollinate only during early spring. Most of the year, they remain dormant in nesting cells and are no bigger than a common horsefly. After mating in early spring, each female constructs rows of cells made of mud inside tube homes. In managed situations, the beekeeper provides both the tube homes (hives) and the mud. Each cell is provisioned by the female with a mixture of nectar and pollen on which she lays an egg. The cell is sealed with mud and the larva feeds and develops without further attention from the mother.
Mason bees are valued because of their surprising ability to pollinate. They are up to 100 times more efficient than the honeybee. They work faster, stay within the orchard, make better contact with the flower stamen, and prefer orchard flowers to those of weeds and other crops.
The Leafcutter Bee
The leafcutter bee also provides a valuable and efficient pollination service for plants. They too are 100 times more efficient than the honeybee. They are, like the mason bee, solitary and cavity nesters, often using the same beekeeper-provided beehive. Instead of mud seals to protect their larva, they use leaf cuttings as linings by overlapping segments of leaf to make a cylindrical cavity that looks like a little cigar. Each cavity is then filled with pollen and nectar and sealed with a little segment of leaf. They become active after the Mason bee and pollinate well into summer. The leafcutter bees will also overwinter in their bee house.
There are over 250 species of bumblebees. Similar to the honeybees, they are social and form colonies with a single queen. However, these colonies are much smaller than honeybee colonies, averaging only 50-100 in each nest as opposed to 10,000 honeybees per colony. They have large round bodies covered with soft hair and a long tongue which makes them excellent pollinators.
Boots to Bees™ Products
Boots to Bees™ has houses for mason and leafcutter bees for backyard use as well as an agricultural model for farms and orchards. A bumblebee nest building demonstration is an integral part of our education program.