Learning how to raise native bees is a great spring or summer activity that the whole family can enjoy. It’s so fascinating to see the bees flying to and from their bee house.
Not only does raising native bees help to increase their declining population, it is also beneficial to you. Native bees, such as mason bees and leafcutter bees are excellent pollinators. Add a bee house to your garden to see an increase in your harvest.
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What are Native Bees?
When you think of a bee, you probably think of a honey bee. However, it may surprise you to learn that honey bees are not native to North America. Honey bees were imported to North America from Europe in the 17th century.
Native bees, on the other hand, have always been in North America. There are over 4,000 species of native bees in the United States. Nearly all native bee species in the US are solitary bees, meaning they live and work alone.
If you want to learn how to raise native bees, you will likely be raising mason bees or leafcutter bees. These bees are docile and great pollinators.
The only social native bee is the bumble bee. Bumble bees are very different from honey bees though. They build a nest on the ground and have much smaller colonies than honey bees. The biggest difference is that bumble bees build a new colony every year.
Perhaps the most well known native bee is the mason bee. There are several different mason bee species throughout the US. Many gardeners enjoy raising mason bees in their yards, as mason bees are excellent pollinators.
Mason Bees are known for their use of mud to build their nests. They are solitary bees, so each female is fertile and will forage and build her nest all on her own. Mason bees are very docile and will rarely sting.
Another native bee that is a great pollinator is the leafcutter bee. Like their name implies, leafcutter bees cut small pieces of leaves and use them to line their nests. Leafcutter bees are often used in commercial pollination of crops such as alfalfa and blueberries.
Leafcutter bees can be found throughout the US. Florida alone is home to 63 different species of leafcutter bees. Like the mason bee, leafcutter bees are very docile and will rarely sting.
Cuckoo bees are interesting native bees, as they do not build their own nests. Instead, they lay their eggs in the nest of another bee. Once the cuckoo bee larvae hatches, it eats the pollen in the host bee’s nest and will kill the host bee larvae.
This is called brood parasitism. Because of this, cuckoo bees are not raised and cared for in the way mason and leafcutter bees are.
Why Is It Important to Raise Native Bees?
While there are many different species of native bees in the US, as much as 40% of them are in danger of becoming extinct. That’s a big reason it is important to raise native bees.
As you may know, native bees are important to our ecosystem as pollinators of our food. Without them, we would suffer greatly.
Not only does raising native bees help them, it helps us too. Adding native bees to your garden provides excellent pollination to your flowers, fruits, and vegetables.
So how can you help? Helping native bees can be as simple as planting a bee friendly garden with native wildflowers. If you want, you can also set up a bee house with materials for bees to build a nest. Read on to learn how to raise native bees.
What do You Need To Raise Native Bees?
Native bees need a food source nearby. To raise native bees you should plant a pollinator garden full of flowering plants, vegetables, and fruits. Wildflowers are easy to grow and great for pollinator gardens.
Depending on the type of native bee you are raising, you may want to grow certain plants. For example, leafcutter bees prefer to use rose, azalea, and bougainvillea leaves to construct their nests.
Your pollinator garden should be pesticide free and contain a variety of flowering plants.
Native bees will make their homes in nature, but if you have a bee house, they’ll build their nests right there and you can monitor and observe them. The good thing about using a bee house is that you can keep it clean and pest free. At the end of the season you can also harvest the bee cocoons for later use.
Native bee houses come with nesting holes for the bees to lay eggs in. Make sure you get the correct size nesting hole for the type of bee you are raising. Mason bees require a nesting hole that is 8 mm in diameter, while leafcutter bees like 6mm nesting holes.
Last, but not least, you need native bee cocoons. Of course you can also set up a bee house and hope bees are attracted to it, but if you get cocoons you’ll have bees that season for sure.
The best place to get native bee cocoons is online. My favorite place for cocoons is Crown Bees. They offer great quality mason and leafcutter bee cocoons for a good price and free first class shipping.
How to Raise Native Bees
Now that you have all your materials ready, it’s time to learn how to raise native bees. It’s a really fun and easy process that the whole family can enjoy.
- Install your bee house. The best bee house location has protection from wind and rain. It should also face south or southeast, so it catches the early morning sun. If there are a lot of birds in your area, drape mesh or chicken wire around the bee house.
- Add nesting holes. Choose the appropriate sized nesting holes for the species of native bee you are raising. Use 8 mm for mason bees and 6 mm for leafcutter bees. Be sure to have at least 1 nesting hole per cocoon.
- Release cocoons. When daytime temperatures are consistently 55 degrees or warmer, it’s time to release your cocoons. Simply place your cocoons in the bee house. The cocoons do not need to be in the nesting holes, as the bees will find a nesting hole after they emerge. Make sure the cocoons are not in direct sunlight.
That’s it! All that’s left to do is sit back and wait for your cocoons to hatch. Depending on the temperature, it can take several days to even weeks for all of your cocoons to hatch. The male bees will emerge first and will wait nearby for the females.
Once the females emerge, they will mate with the males, then claim a nesting hole. She will then go out to collect pollen and nectar to build a pollen loaf. In the nesting hole she will lay an egg on the pollen loaf and seal up the chamber with either mud, for mason bees, or leaves for leafcutter bees.
There are many species of bees that are native to the United States. You can learn how to raise native bees to increase their population and to pollinate your garden. Certain native bee cocoons can be bought online.