Build It And They Will Come

Sep 9, 2008

Build it and they will come.

Baseball’s “Field of Dreams?”

No, a bee nesting block.  Think "bee condo."

It’s an artificial nesting site made of wood and drilled with different-sized holes and depths to accommodate the diversity of native pollinators. Often the bee block is nailed to a fence post. Native bees, such as leafminer bees and blue orchard bees, build their nests inside the holes.

Fact is, North America is home to about 4,000 species of native bees. (The  common honey bee is not a native; colonists brought it here from Europe in the 1600s.)

Members of the Xerces Society, an international organization "dedicated to protecting biological diversity through invertebrate conservation," are keen on protecting the habitat of native bees and other native invertebrates. As part of their public outreach program, they publish books, pamphlets and fact sheets. These include  Pollinator Conservation Handbook, Farming for Bees, and the fact sheet, Bumble Bees in Decline.

As for the bee condos, thousands are sold each year in the United States, according to entomologist Mace Vaughan, pollinator program director of the Xerces Society, based in Portland, Ore. As concern for the environment grows, more and more farmers and urban gardeners want to attract and accommodate the native bees. Native bees are important crop pollinators, Vaughan says, and the work people do on behalf of the pollinators also supports other beneficial insects and wildlife.

Vaughan, who escorted a group of us on a recent Yolo County farm tour, said many of our  native bee species are much more efficient than honey bees at pollinating some crops.

"For example, only 250 female orchard mason bees (genus Osmia, also called blue orchard bees) are required to effectively pollinate an acre of apples, a task that would require 1.5 to 2 honey bee hives--approximatley 15,000 to 20,000 foragers." (Source: Farming for Bees, a Xerces Society publication.)

Native bees sport such names as miner, carpenter, leafcutter, mason, plasterer or carder, reflecting their nesting behaviors. 

See the bee (below) heading toward the bee block? Xerces Society member Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who researches native pollinators, including bumble bees, says this is a female leafcutting bee, "probably the introduced Megachile apicalis, a specialist on Centaurea species, especially yellow starthistle."


The leafcutter bee, as its name implies, cuts leaves to form its nest.



By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

This is a bee nesting block built to attract native pollinators.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Bee block

A female leafcutting bee heads for the bee nesting block. The holes are of different diameters and depths to attract a greater diversity of native bees.(Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leafcutter bee

Leafcutter bees are just a few of the native bees that use a bee nesting block. The block faces the morning sun so that bees can warm themselves up to flight temperature. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

In flight