April 20, 2013

Wild House of Bees - An introduction

Wild House of Bees: "The Prototype"
I think I've finally got it.  The past few months I've spent more hours than I can count thinking about bees.  Reading about bees.  Dreaming about bees.  Trying to build a perfect little bee house...a Wild House of Bees...and I think I can finally say, I like how they're shaping up.  A lot.  First things first though...

This is NOT a house for HONEYBEES!
Honeybees look like teddybears dunked in honey
Nope!  The honeybees we're all so familiar with (Apis mellifera) originally come from Europe, and were introduced to North America in the early 1600s.  There are thousands of species of bees native to North America.  Some are bumblebees (Bombus sp.), which nest in social colonies in the ground.  But the majority are "solitary bees"...mason bees, leafcutters, sweat bees, carpenter bees, masked bees and so many more.  These wild bees don’t form hives, don’t make honey, and rarely, if ever, sting.  Having no hive to defend, no honey stash to protect, makes for a very docile little bee.
The females build nests in cavities (holes in the ground, in dead twigs, or hollow stems) and are important pollinators of native plants, fruit trees and early-season crops.

How does wild beekeeping work?
In spring and summer, females need to find sheltered cavities to nest in.  Different species like different types of cavities.  Some love to dig into the mud, others like a perfectly sized tube to crawl in.  Here they’ll deposit eggs, along with a little food (pollen) for the growing larva, in cells lined with mud or leaves. When the larvae hatch, they spin a cocoon and get to munching on that pollen stash.  The young bees will spend the winter nestled in these cells, and emerge in spring to mate and build their own nests.  This is a nesting cavity we found in the wild, in a hollow milkweed stem...
 Crawl in a tube, lay a little egg, stash a little bit of pollen, pack it with mud, repeat.  
As more and more wild places are replaced with houses and parking lots, native bees are having a harder time finding places to nest.  The Wild House of Bees provides a perfect bundle of nesting tubes that you can hang right in your backyard.  Every few years, you can remove the back mounting board of your bee house to clean out or replace the tubes.  This will help discourage parasites and other bee pests.  You can gather your own hollow-stemmed plants, or order a new bundle here.
What else do bees need to stay HEALTHY?
*Food:  Native bees like lots of flowering plants around to collect pollen and nectar from.  Bees are attracted to yellow or blue/purple flowers that are open like a blanketflower...
or have little tubes like a penstemon.
*Water:  A source of water is important in our dry climate.  Also make sure there is some mud around; many bees will use it to build their nest cells.
*Shelter:  Try to keep your bee house out of heavy rain and winds.  Hang it about 5 feet off the ground, facing south or east toward the warm sun.

The tubes of your Wild House of Bees are 6" deep, and come from a variety of hollow- or pithy-stemmed locally gathered plants.  I try to use invasive weeds like Fuller's teasel and Japanese knotweed when I can; it's pretty cool when I can tie weed eradication into pollinator conservation so nicely.  The holes range from 1/10 to 1/2" to encourage a variety of bee species to nest here, but most of them are exactly 3/8", the perfect size for mason bees (aka blue orchard bees, Osmia lignaria, the poster child for native bees).  You'll see the mud-capped tubes of mason bees forming in early spring.  Later in summer, other tubes will start to be capped with leaves.  These are the leafcutter bees, Megachile sp.  Who know what else will move in?!  I'm always hoping a solitary wasp will come along and fill the tube with paralyzed spiders.  Backyard ecology is so fun to watch.

So...why be a wild beekeeper?
*Conservation!  By wild beekeeping, you replace nesting sites lost due to habitat destruction, and help conserve our native biodiversity
Blue mason bees have the cutest buns...
*Pollination!  As honeybee populations decline, we rely more on wild bees for pollination.  That means more flowers, more food, and a healthier environment for everybody
*Observation!  Watching wild bees nest year after year is endlessly fascinating, and a great way to learn about local plant and insect ecology.

There's so much to learn about wild bees!  Click here for a handy collection of what I've found to be the most compelling, entertaining and useful resources for wild beekeepers.  To learn more about Wild House of Bees, visit my Frequently Asked Questions page.

Visit Flora montana on Etsy to order your own
Wild House of Bees!

~Happy Bees, Happy World~


  1. Yeah for Bees! And hurray for sharing great info, thanks!

  2. Cool post, Leah! Very informative. Love the wild bee house!