Words by Jessica Peace
Solitary bees are kickin’ the bucket but our plants need them! To understand just how good these guys are at pollinating - and their VERY kinky habits (just you wait), we grabbed our mate and Bee Queen, Kate Boydell.
HANG ON, WHY DO WE NEED THE SOLITARY BEE?
So, there are 267 varieties of bee in this country and 90% are solitary bees - everyone thinks that you know it’s mostly honey bees but in fact solitary bees are the biggest population and they are also much better at pollinating. A single solitary bee can do as much pollination as 130 honey bees; and the reason they are such good pollinators is because they don’t have pollen baskets like honey bees do.
I don’t know if you’ve seen a film of honey bees going into a nest but they have what I call “pollen trousers”, they have pouches called ‘honey baskets’ on their legs and they stuff them full of pollen and take them to their nest. Whereas, solitary bees don’t have any “pollen trousers” so they just scatter the pollen on the next flower; they’ll hold a lot of it on their bodies, that’s why they’re very hairy but when they travel to another flower they pollinate that flower. So that’s why they’re so efficient and so important to pollination; and that’s why solitary bee nesters are so important to have in your garden.
ERM, WHAT HAPPENS IN THOSE TUBES???
The female solitary bee will go off and she’ll mate with loads and loads of males and she only mates once. The thing about when the female bee mates, the penis gets torn off and stays inside the queen - I mean most people have a cigarette afterwards but the male bee doesn’t really feel like it! And so she has all of that sperm inside of her and that lasts her the rest of her life; and she’s so amazing that she can decide whether to produce a male or a female egg, and I don’t know how they do that but they do decide; the male is an unfertilised egg and the female is a fertilised egg.
So anyway, solitary bees will go into one of those little tubes in the bee nester, they don’t produce wax but they will make a cell out of various materials. They go to flowers, they will suck up some nectar, go to their nest and make a ball of pollen and nectar, and then lay an egg on top of that ball. Then they fill up the little cell that they’ve made, come forward in the tube and they make another ball, lay another egg and they do that till the front of the tube. They lay the ladies at the back and the men at the front because the men take a shorter time to hatch, so the tube will be full of little eggs and the boys will hatch first and come out from the front and the girls hatch a bit later because they’re more special and they take longer to get ready!
HOW DO WE BRING THE BEES TO OUR NESTER?
Don’t mow your lawn as regularly as you normally do, let the grass grow a bit and keep the dandelions as they are great for bees. Any plant that’s not a ‘double-headed’ flower because the bees can’t get in there is you know, generally great. Trees as well have masses of pollen which I think most people don’t really realise but they have huge amounts of pollen, especially this time of year. Just somewhere about one metre off the ground with a roof, the tube have to be dry.
You can tell that they're there because there’ll be some sort of material at the end of the tube, and that’s how you know that you’ve got the solitary bee in there. I’ve got mine just stuck on top of a low wall, as long as it’s off the ground and away from a damp place where water can get into the tubes. The bees will find it, if they want to find a place to lay their eggs, they’ll find a bee nester.
WHAT DO BEES MEAN TO YOU?
Enlightenment and peace.
I go into sort of a zen state when I’m with my bees, you have to be calm around bees because they are so sensitive to everything and they will pick up immediately if you’re nervous so I become super calm around my bees - and they just bring me untold joy, they just make me happy. I sit on a chair in the garden with my binoculars and I just watch the entrance to the hive and I find it absolutely fascinating because they are so clever and they work so hard, that’s why I don’t take much honey from my bees. They have to visit three million flowers to get enough nectar to make one jar of honey. Fact of the day! I don’t like to take too much honey from mine, I like them to have it.
We thank you Kate Boydell, First of her Name, Mother of Bees. (She’s a GOT fan - we love her even more.)
If you’ve got space to dangle one of our bee nesters in your garden or community patch get it done! (And don’t worry solitary bees don’t do that ‘middle-class swarm’ thing, they cool.)
… We’ve also got pollinating bee seed mixes and there’s still time to sow!