$20 OFF Bee Starter Kits
Stop by Tagawa Gardens before 6-30-17 and receive $20 OFF Mason Bee Starter Kit by Orcon or BeeHut Basic Plus+ Kit by Crown Bees!
One of my favorite things about gardening in my back yard is listening to the buzz of the bees as they come and go from the flowers or the bird bath, where they’ve stopped for a drink.
I’m a beekeeper, so the bees I hear and see most often are my own honey bees. They’re gentle and businesslike. I can usually tell by the tone of their humming if they’re content. They have a job to do, and I feel it’s part of my job to stay out of their way and just let them do it.
Like most beekeepers, I refer to these little visitors as “the girls,” since all of the honey bees we see on flowers are female worker bees. The queen is back in the hive laying eggs. The guys…. the “drones…” are just waiting for the sun to rise high in the sky so they can take off and try to get a date with a virgin queen from a different hive. But that’s another story for another time.
The honey bees are far from alone…
My girls may be the most numerous pollinators in my garden, but I’m always pleased when I see the “other” bees. If I ask you to guess what some of those “other” bees might be, you’d probably say “bumble bees,” and you’d be right.
I’m convinced that the biggest, loudest bumble bees come to my garden. In fact, we’re all lucky to have nearly twenty different species of bumble bees native to Colorado. Some are large. Some are small. But they’re all excellent pollinators and make terrific guests in the garden.
Many of these flying fur balls are particularly fond of larger flowers like penstemon. Bumblers have longer tongues than other bees and are especially good at reaching the nectar that lies deep inside blossoms. Other plants that will attract various species of Colorado’s bumble bees include Bee Balm, asters and old-fashioned sun flowers.
Leaf cutter bee photo courtesy of Crown Bees
Hang on to your gardening hat!
Not only are we blessed with several varieties of bumble bees, only three states have more native bees than Colorado! More than 950 species of native bees are at home in Colorado. Like bumble bees, many of these natives are plagued with some of the same pests and diseases that are challenging the honey bees. People who want to support these native bees and increase the pollination in their gardens don’t have to become beekeepers to see their fruit and veggie harvest improve.
Native bee houses
Consider raising your own mild-mannered mason bees or leaf cutter bees by putting some simple native bee houses in your garden. By having access to clean, safe nesting sites, mason bees and leaf cutter bees can begin to establish themselves in your garden and your neighborhood.
Mason bee photo courtesy of Crown Bees
Blue orchard mason bees get their name from the way they construct their nest. The queen gathers a pea-sized ball of pollen and nectar and inserts it deep into a tube-shaped hole. She lays a single egg on top of the pollen “loaf” and then seals the egg and pollen into its own chamber. She repeats that process with additional eggs, working her way toward the entrance of the tube, until the nest is full. As she goes, her masonry skills kick in as she builds a thin wall of mud to separate each chamber.
When the egg hatches, it feeds on the pollen and pupates inside the chamber through the winter. The bees emerge early the following spring, just in time to pollinate fruit orchards, and the process begins all over again.
Companies like Crown Bees specialize in kits that let home gardeners mount small bee houses in their own gardens to host these native insects. Tagawa Gardens carries a variety of supplies to make raising native bees easy and fun.
Leaf Cutter Bees
The same sorts of houses that support mason bees also work for leaf cutter bees, which hatch later in the season, once daytime temperatures are consistently above 70 degrees. Like the mason bees, leaf cutters are prolific pollinators. Because of the way they visit flowers and transfer pollen on their very fuzzy bodies, leaf cutters and mason bees are far more effective at pollinating than honey bees.
Leaf Cutter Bee photo courtesy of Crown Bees
Leaf cutter bees get their name from their remarkable ability to cut perfect dime-sized circles out of leaves. The missing bits of leaf may be clearly visible to the gardener, but cause no damage to the plant. Ideally, the “damage” is seen as living proof of one of Mother Nature’s most able architects!
The bees carry the rolled up leaf discs back to their nests to line the “nursery” walls. Once several leaf circles are properly in place, the bee creates a pollen loaf, lays an egg and bundles it all up into a tiny package. Like the mason bees, the leaf cutter eggs will hatch, pupate for several months and emerge the following season.
No stinging! No worries!
Mason bees and leaf cutter bees are as good as stingless. They have to be seriously provoked (as in grabbed) to sting. Even then, it will feel more like a mosquito bite than a bee sting. And the sting won’t trigger any significant reaction in people who are allergic to bees.
Our garden advisers at Dick’s Corner will gladly walk you through the in’s and out’s of raising these gentle bees in your garden. It’s a fascinating project… a great way to capture the imagination of kids… and help out these remarkably beneficial insects in the process!
Celebrate Pollinator Week, June 19 through 25!
Share our Facebook post about native bees and you could win a Native Bee House Starter Kit!
From June 15 through June 21, 2017, share this post and you will be entered into a random drawing to win either a BeeHut Basic Plus+ Native Bee Raising Kit by Crown Bees, ($63.99) or a Mason Bee Starter Kit by Orcon, (reg. $68.99, contains Bee nest, info book and live bees (by mail)! Drawing Date June 21, approx. noon! (winner will be contacted via Facebook)