We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day. From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning. If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.
My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).
I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)
I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.
What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!
Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.
You are likely to see more than just bees. I get solitary wasps. These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar! These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.
If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest. Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log. This is in June. Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.
I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.
It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence. This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)
So the most important action is to put something up. Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web. I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places. If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.
For the curious, like me, there is also a solitary bee nest that can be opened so that you can see exactly what has been happening over the summertime. I found it on http://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/p/solitary-bee-hive?pp=24
I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.
But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived. Yes, it has got that bad! I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.
We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest. She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums. But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.
In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box. The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites. I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.
I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World. The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂
One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels. However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes. This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.