We rely on science for our answers...
Why should I be concerned about native bees?
Winged insects are vanishing at an alarming rate all over the world. Over 50% of the native pollinator species in the U.S. are in a state of decline. Pesticides, habitat loss, and climate change are some of the biggest causes. Most people have heard that honeybees need help, but may not realize the danger to native pollinators.
What do we really need them for?
Native bees are essential to a functioning ecosystem. They have developed in cooperation with native plants over millions of years and many plants essential to our food supply simply cannot reproduce without their cooperation. These hard working matriarchs help us grow fruits, nuts, vegetables, and field crops like alfalfa and clover. They are much more efficient than honeybees at pollinating most food crops and native plants.
What’s the difference between honeybees and native bees?
Honeybees are eusocial, which means they live in colonies with overlapping generations in one highly functional family unit. Native bees are solitary. The females lead short lives of intense labor and after a few weeks of work they die, leaving behind their young in tubes or holes in the hope they will survive to complete their own life cycle. There are over 4,000 species of native bees in the U.S and over 400, for example, in our home state of Missouri. Many of these bees are in the family megachilidae: mason bees and leaf cutter bees. One example is the Blue Orchard Bee, a highly efficient mason bee beloved by fruit growers. Other insect pollinators include solitary wasps and moths.
Do native bees make honey for their offspring?
No, they gather pollen and nectar from flowers in order to feed their offspring.
Why do native bees need shelter?
Bees go through four stages to become an adult and need to be protected in their vulnerable early stages. The mother finds a sheltered hole or tube and then lays an egg with a supply of pollen. The egg develops into a larva, grows to a pupa before finally emerging as a mature adult months later. Native bees will spend 90% of their lives at home.
Sounds cozy, so what’s the problem?
The bees, their offspring, and their food supply are tasty snacks for predators and easy targets for parasites. Even worse, bees are killed by the same pesticides that are contaminating yards, farms, and fields. Scientists call this the “insect apocalypse”.
I’ve seen a lot of wooden hotels for native bees online, why shouldn't I use those?
The biggest problem with wooden hotels is the parasite load. Tiny parasites live on flowers and native bees pick them up and take them back to their brood along with pollen. These predatory mites will then set up camp among the brood and wait for new eggs to hatch. Most of the mites hop on the backs of emerging bees, while a sizable population stays in the habitat waiting for even more bees to infect. Many bee hotels do more harm than good by providing contaminated housing for seasons to come. This problem can be minimized by thoroughly cleaning and sterilizing their bee hotels of parasites every year, but most people don’t bother.
Yikes! That’s terrible! What do I need for a healthy bee nursery?
A well-functioning bee hotel requires a few things in order to be successful. You will need a properly sized screen to discourage large predators like birds and squirrels. Your nursery should protect against rain and be ventilated to prevent excess humidity.
Why is the Beestra Native Bee Nursery the best option?
BeeFoster takes a different approach to bee hotels. Our design addresses the issues of predators, weather protection, and most importantly, provides a solution to the parasite problem. Replace your Beestra each season. Each pod is easy to remove and replace every year. That way, you know no mites will be left to infect the baby bees in the coming season. The pods are easy to store over winter (if you choose to do so) and they are easy to take apart if you want to study your new tenants.
What are the other benefits of the BeeFoster Nursery?
We've done a lot of research to make sure that we use recycled materials to build our products and everything is non-toxic to native pollinators. Not only that, but BeeFoster nurseries are simple to set up and require very little maintenance. The pods are recyclable and/or compostable when you’re done with them.
What’s a typical BeeFoster annual cycle?
Place your new Beestra in your garden just before spring. To get the most benefit from your nursery, you'll want to do this before native bees become active. Then wait and watch the bees pollinate your plants until autumn. At this point, the bees will be hibernating in their cocoons. This is a good time to collect your Beestras or Pods and put them in cold storage. You can see how we do that here. The baby bees can be placed outside on a sunny day in early spring for the cycle to start all over again! Look for weather that is consistently 55 degrees or above for the best conditions. Afterwards, the Beestras or Pods can be disposed of, recycled, or composted.
Do I have to store the bees over winter?
Not necessarily! Many people choose to leave their bees outside all winter and let them wake up naturally when the weather gets warm again. However, this may be an issue when we get several 60 degree days in January: the bees think it’s spring and emerge only to freeze to death a few days later! So you may want to store your Beestra in a cool, humid place until the weather is consistently warm, after which you simply place them outside and wait for the bees to come out. Many people use a breathable box in their refrigerator, with a damp paper towel or two for humidity. You can see how we do that here.
Are colors important on my BeeFoster nursery?
Bees depend on their extraordinary eyesight to find flowers to pollinate. Like us, they see in color, but their color receptors are based on blue, green, and ultraviolet light. This means that they are especially good at seeing colors in the blue-and-purple family. On some of our designs, we add colorful paper to help bees find their home in their BeeFoster nursery. You will also see blue and purple designs on the corrugated version of the BeeFoster nursery. These are printed with non-toxic water-based inks.
Once the bees find the Nursery, will I need to be concerned about predators?
The Beestra has secure wire mesh to keep birds and squirrels away.
How many bees can I expect to hatch?
This depends on many things, including bee species, weather, and placement. Keep in mind that native pollinators are not as numerous as they used to be, so be patient. Native bees typically lay 7-10 eggs in each tube. Then they cap the ends of the tubes.
What’s the significance of the different sizes of tubes in the Pods?
Our pods are designed with tubes ranging from 6mm to 12mm in order to attract the greatest variety of pollinators. Most mason and leaf cutter bees will stay in tubes in the 8-12mm range.
Where should I put my new Beestra?
Everyone knows bees love flowers, so try to place the unit near as many different flowering plants as possible. Bees also need to keep warm so give them lots of morning light, facing the opening towards the south or southeast if you can. Try locating your Beestra close to water and dirt because the ladies use mud to seal their homes- within 300 feet is ideal. If you don’t have a water source, simply turn on a hose next to the nursery for a few minutes or invite your kids to make a mud pile! See our complete field guide HERE.
What happens if the bees can't find my nursery?
Raising native bees is both art and science. So, if the bees don't find your nursery, be patient. It's possible that nearby pesticide use or a lack of plant diversity means that there simply aren't many native bees around. One benefit of our nurseries is that you can gauge the health of your ecosystem by noting whether or not pollinators are abundant. Be sure to keep your nursery outside during the entire flowering season, spring to fall, in order to increase your chances.
If we didn't answer your question or you'd like to chat more about what we're doing, please contact us!
- Ames & Dan Chiles