New Native Bee Habitat in the Teaching Garden 

🦋 It’s National Pollinator Week! 🐝🦇

By Julia Wine, Girl Scout

This is the male of the Blue Orchard Bee, studied for its use in orchards as a pollinator. Collected and photographed by Laura Campbell in the Virginia Beach area.

Several species of solitary bees, including Blue Orchard bees and Japanese Horned Mason bees live in our part of Northern Virginia. These bees don’t live in social hives but make their nests on their own. They very rarely use their stingers because they are not defending a collective hive filled with honey. They lay their eggs in hollow stems or already existing holes in trees or dead wood, sealing in each egg with a layer of mud.

A solitary bee’s method of pollination is also different from a honeybee’s. Instead of carrying pollen in baskets on their hind legs, they collect pollen with the hairs on their underside, making the pollen more likely to make contact with a flower for pollination.

Solitary bees are experiencing population declines and range reductions due to a number of factors. Habitat loss and fragmentation of population groups decrease the availability of nesting sites so the bee population can’t grow. Pesticide use has harmful effects on bees and can kill them. Competition with honey bees reduces the amount of resources available for solitary bees. All of these factors negatively affect the population of solitary bees.

Kirsten Conrad, VCE Extension Agent, Girl Scout Julia Wine, Arlington Natural Resources Manager, Alonso Abugattas, and VCE Summer Intern Jessica Peyton. Photo courtesy of Kirsten Conrad © 2019

To combat habitat loss affecting solitary bees, I decided, as a Girl Scout project, to build a bee box and, and with the guidance of local Virginia Cooperative Extension Agent Kirsten Conrad and Natural Resources Manager Alonso Abugattas, installed it in the Master Gardeners Teaching Garden behind the Fairlington Community Center. This project earned me Girl Scouting’s highest award, the Gold Award.

New bee box with educational flyers.

New bee box with educational flyers.
Photo © 2019 Julia Wines

Building a bee box is a fairly straightforward endeavor. To build this one, I first built the exterior box out of 2 x 12 wood boards and painted it with primer and then beige exterior paint. The interior blocks of wood were cut from a 4 x 4 cedar post and drilled with holes 5/16th of an inch in diameter and 3⁄4 of an inch apart. Next, I cut dried bamboo into pieces separated by their nodes so that each one had an open and closed end. I placed the cedar blocks and the bamboo pieces inside the box. To install, I hung the box on the garden’s steel trellis facing east so that the bees get morning sun.

This box will provide a place to nest for the nearby population of solitary bees for many years to come. The project will serve as a resource for the Fairlington Community Center teaching garden so local residents can learn more about solitary bees and perhaps copy this example and help reverse habitat loss by building a box of their own.


Solitary Bee Boxes, Educational Flyer provided near the Bee Box.


Sources

  • Abugattas, Alonso. “Birds, Bees, and Boxes.”
  • “Competition.” Greater Atlanta Pollinator Partnership, 29 Sept. 2014, gapp.org/pollinator-conservation/competition/.
  • “Pesticide Use.” Greater Atlanta Pollinator Partnership, 19 Aug. 2015, gapp.org/pollinator-conservation/pesticide-use/.
  • Shepherd, Matthew. “Nests for Native Bees.” Xerces Society.
  • Vader, Eric, and Matthew Shepherd and Mace Vaughan and Jessa Guisse. “Tunnel Nests for Native Bees: Nest Construction and Management.” Xerces Society.
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