by Sandra Tuszynska
I have recently had the pleasure of being a part of a workshop that involved creating homes for solitary native bees, at the Woodford Planting Festival. It was really inspiring to see people come together to create homes for our precious pollinators. After Helen Schwencke’s introduction, Chris Fuller lead the two workshops. Chris is a consultant for Macadamia growers with regards to bee pollination and has a website called nativebees.com.au.
The workshop was full of interesting facts about different solitary bees such as the Blue Banded bees and Teddybear bees, as well the Carpenter bees and many other species. It is quite amazing to think that Australia has over 1500 species of bees and counting.
Unlike social bees, solitary bees do not create hives, instead they lay their eggs in all kinds of nooks and crannies. For example the Blue Banded bees lay their eggs in river banks or any other exposed, sandstone or clay containing soil. The female bees dig out a hole that they then extend into a maze of tunnels. Although they are solitary the females might build nests in close proximity to one another. They lay their eggs in the tunnels and seal off the entrance and then leave the site. The young hatch in the warmer months.
DIY Bee Wall
If you would like to attract these beautiful creatures to your garden, you can provide some nesting sites for them.Most people use a 20cm rectangular down-pipe to create mud bricks with starter holes for the bees to nest in. The image below is of a ready made brick composed of 3 parts sand to 1 part natural clay.
I wanted to create some of these for some friends, so I hunted down some clay on their property and found 3 different types. Some of the red clay seemed to have a mix of sand in it, so I used it to make a brick. The other heavier clay I mixed in the 3 part sand:1part clay. There was no rectangular pipe available, so I used a 15cm round down-pipe. I created a few starter holes, however the bees might choose to create their own from scratch. During the Bee Wall workshop, the starter holes were maybe 2cm deep, but some people create holes10cm deep. The bees may also prefer to create their own from scratch.
A few more of these will need to be created to entice the bees to nest there as they prefer to nest in close proximity to others of their species. It is also a good idea to provide the bees with a thin vine or grass to roost on overnight.
They need to be raised off the ground and facing north for the morning sun. Protecting the wall with some native plants from all the other sides would create a safe haven for the bees. For a detailed description on how to create mud blocks and other useful tips please see Planting and Creating Habitat to Attract Bees and Bee Walls Habitat and Nesting Blocks by Valley Bees, as well as How to Make Nest Blocks for Blue Banded Bees by aussiebee.com.au.
Wood Blocks for Carpenter Bees
This is a matter of drilling some different sized holes into some wood blocks. The sizes should vary to accommodate for bee diversity:
3 mm hole 70 mm deep (few)
5 mm hole 120 mm deep (most commonly used)
6.5 mm hole 150 mm deep (most commonly used)
9.5 mm hole 150 mm deep (few)
13 mm hole 150 mm deep (few)
These can then be lined with paper straws for easy cleaning once the bees hatch out.
Paper Straw Homes for Resin Bees
The simplest home to create for resin bees, is by stuffing an empty can with some paper straws, tubes or hole liners.
Some bees love to nest in pre-made hollows, so bamboo sticks are a fabulous material for these. Cut about 10-15cm pieces and make sure they are sealed on one end by cutting before or after the node, or block one end with some clay.
Lantana Bundles for Reed Bees
As much as Lantana is hated by many for its invasiveness, Australian animals are fast adapting it as a source of shelter including Exoneura, a native reed bee.
Females burrow into the soft pith of old stems to lay their eggs. In fact these bees are semi-social, so a number of bees can occupy a hollow of a step and will feed their young with honey and pollen.
One of the bees guards the entrance with its tiny back side which can be black or red. To create a Lantana bundle for these little beauties, just cut some 10-15cm mature canes and wind some wire around the bundle.
Now it is time to create the wall adding to it the different homes you have created for the bees. Be creative with this as anything goes!