Go Native! Be a Native Bee 'Beekeeper'

Mar 5, 2014

If you're yearning to be a backyard beekeeper, "go native."

"Go native" with native bees, that is.

Many folks are building or buying bee condos to provide nesting sites for blue orchard bees (Osmia lignaria)  and leafcutting bees (Megachile spp.).

A bee condo is a block of wood drilled with specially sized holes for nesting sites. Bees lay their eggs, provision the nests, and then plug the holes. Months later, the offspring will emerge. 

In our backyard, we provide bee condos for BOBs (short for blue orchard bee) and leafcutter bees. 

In the summer it's fun watching the leafcutter bees snip leaves from our shrubbery and carry them back to their bee condo.   It's easy to tell the nesting sites apart: BOB holes are larger and plugged with mud, while the leafcutter bee holes are smaller and plugged with leaves. 

Osmia lignaria, a native species of North America, is sold commercially for use in orchard crop pollination. 

At the Bohart Museum of Entomology Open House on Sunday, March 2, native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, UC Davis emeritus professor of entomology, displayed a variety of bee houses. 

If you want to learn how to build them or where to buy them, Thorp has kindly provided a list of native bee nesting site resources on the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility website. You can also purchase them at many beekeeping supply stores. (Also check out the Xerces Society's website information.)

Better yet, if you'd like to learn more about native bees and their needs, be sure to register online for the Pollinator Gardening Workshop on Saturday, March 15 on the UC Davis campus. Hosted by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, it begins at 7:30 a.m. in Room 1001 of Giedt Hall and ends at 2 p.m. with a plant sale at the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery and a tour of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus. For the small fee of $40 you'll receive a continental breakfast and box lunch and return home with an unbee-lievable wealth of knowledge. Speakers will include several honey bee and native bee experts: native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp; pollination ecologist Neal Williams and Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen. See the complete list on the website.

You'll be hearing from Robbin, Neal and Eric, but you'll be thinking about BOB.