Help for the hive-nots: a solo bee primer

Bee and bug nest idea

This impressive bee condo is a welcome relief for hive-nots but there are easier ways to offer support.

You may not have heard the buzz yet but now’s the time to keep bees in mind. April’s slightly warmer weather means garden clean-up goes into high gear and that can be a big problem for bees–solitary bees, that is.

First, a quick note on the difference between solitary bees and honey bees.

Honey bees are social bees. Their home-making is a group effort and their hives are usually easy to spot unless they’ve taken up residence in your roof in which case you might not be aware of their vicinity until you see honey dripping from the ceiling. Ick.

Solitary bees* are the most common native pollinator in Ontario. Among other things, they help pollinate the flowers in your garden, ensuring the production of seeds–a healthy garden is a pollinated garden. They nest in hollow stems, holes in trees, the nooks and crannies of dead wood, and in the soil.

Wild bees are losing their battle against pesticides and habitat loss. But we can help.

1. Don’t be a neat freak. When you’re doing that thorough April garden clean-up, leave behind some dead wood and keep the soil in the back corners of the yard undisturbed.

2. Plant some bee food. Different bees like different kinds of plants but you’ll likely help at least one kind if you’ve got any of these:

  • Catnip–This plant feeds bees, repels mosquitoes and gives cats a high. Read my posting on this fab flower for more info.
  • Cucumbers, melons, pumpkin and squash
  • Sunflowers and dahlias
  • Dandelions and goldenrod
  • Apple and cherry trees
  • Maple trees
  • Sage (salvia spp.) and thyme
  • Yellow Rocket (Bararea vulgarism), an Ontario wildflower.
  • Take a look at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s list of nectar and pollen plants good for bees, for more ideas.

3. Become a bee landlord. Build a bee nest from the cuttings of hollow-stemmed plants or a chunk of untreated wood. If you’re not the crafty type, you can invest in a fancy pre-made bee condo like the one shown above left–look for them in garden and wildlife accessories stores. But this can be a pricey option. To prevent the spread of fungal diseases you’ll need to replace your stick condo every year. A way-cool option is offered by a Canadian company called Armstrong & Blackbury. They offer a state-of-the-art pollen bee nest for $24.95 each (or less if you buy more) which can be cleaned annually.

For more inspirations, David Suzuki has an excellent guide to bees of urban Southern Ontario–Toronto, in particular. Clear photos help you identify the solitary bees spotted in your garden and includes the home building and flower-feeding preferences of each type of solitary bee. Check out the Wanna-Bee section as well. If you want to do a deep dive into the details of defending bees and their habitats, check out A Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario.

And, on another B note, kids of all ages should check out the North American Bumble Bee Watch. Bumble bees aren’t solitary bees but they are mighty cute and they need our help, too. On this site, you can upload your photos of bumble bees to start a virtual bumble bee collection, have your bees’ i.d.’s verified by experts and help researchers track and pinpoint the conservation needs of bumble bees. Once you’ve connected with this site, you can keep your eyes peeled for the endangered Rusty-patched bumble bee whose range includes Southern Ontario. They’re scheduled to start making their appearance in gardens this month.

* Encouraging detail for people not keen on bees: Solitary bees rarely sting.

4 thoughts on “Help for the hive-nots: a solo bee primer

  1. Pingback: The lazy gardeners ultimate guide to Fall Clean Up Day | Ministry of the fence

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  4. Pingback: The buzz continues: More reasons to look twice at pesticides | Rhymes with Linnaeus

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