Follow the bees at Rockspan Farm @beefosterco
To raise bees, do the right things...
Face your Beestra east and in good sunlight. Place it where there are plenty of flowers nearby. Make sure there's water and mud nearby to make caps. Don't use pesticides or insecticides and ask your neighbors to do the same. If you live in an area where most of the native bees are missing or dead, you will be disappointed. Putting up a Beestra may be the best way to find out if above-ground-nesting native bees are alive and reproducing. You may never know without a Beestra in a proper setting.
In the Spring of 2020, Ames and I installed 22 Beestras on our farm in the Ozarks. We made a point to put the nurseries in a variety of locations to see how placement affected performance. These are our observations and conclusions:
Beestras contain four different diameter straws, 6, 8, 10 and 12 mm.
8 (36%) Beestras had no bees
14 (64%) Beestras contained tubes with hibernating bees
The bees were in tubes with these diameters:
Bees laid eggs in 47 straws that were 6mm in diameter.
Bees laid eggs in 39 straws that were 8mm in diameter.
Bees laid eggs in 24 straws that were 10mm in diameter.
Bees laid eggs in 14 straws that were 12mm in diameter.
We conclude: Beestra placement is important. Our experience showed bad Beestra placement meant poor performance. Disappointing Beestra performance included those facing west, no flowering plants nearby, obscured by foliage, lack of sunlight, lack of water & mud nearby and finally, places which were simply too manicured.
It should be obvious, but we observed that the Beestra works best when there are active bees nearby.
Good placement produced baby bees. The best performing Beestras were the ones closest to the site where we released our 2019 bees. The young mothers quickly found the new Beestras and filled more tubes than any other location. This may indicate that native bees tend to return to where they are released. We believe an annual tradition of placing Beestras in good locations close to where they are being Spring-released will yield the best results.
1. We observed that of the 124 occupied tubes, 79 (64%) were full, 24 (20%) were about half full and 21 (17%) were one quarter full. Although we did not open all the tubes to observe the interiors, the few we did showed live larva with 7-10 bees in full tubes.
2. 9 (7%) of the tubes were apparently filled by leaf cutter bees and 93% by other species.
3. The half and quarter filled tubes had mud caps that were not obvious from the front. We found many of the partially filled tubes only after we removed the straw mats from the housing and looked at the backs closely. Apparently, the bees installed mud caps in the back of the tubes first and worked their way to the front. For reasons unclear, the bees sealed eggs in tubes that were only partially filled 36% of the time.
4. We observed holes we could not explain.
1. Holes in the front end of the mud caps that were 2-3mm in diameter
2. Holes in the sides of the tubes that were 1-2mm in diameter.
5. As much as we tried, Ames and I never actually saw a native bee coming or going from our 22 Beestras in the field trial. We did see them inside the straws moving around and that was thrilling, but we confirmed what we have read: bees attracted to the Beestra are not easily observed.
6. Our Ozarks weather is the most varied in North America* and the Beestras in the field took a beating. They are mineral coated against rain and are designed to last one year outside. As terrible as some of the cases looked, we couldn’t find serious degradation of the straw mats inside. Beestras that were located under eaves and other shelter looked a lot better after the season.
7. We observed two problems with the Beestras in the field. The roof sections tended to pull apart and the glue joint didn’t hold together in all cases. We fixed these problems with the current versions of the Beestra by utilizing a copper strap to hold the roof together and forgoing glue in place of steel staples.
8. In the tubes we dissected, we observed pollen, mud and bees. Under close examination, we saw what looked like tiny insects in tubes we sampled. We conclude these are hitchhikers and are exactly what the Beestra is designed to avoid: parasite competitors for the food and brood of our wild native bees.
9. Beestras have caused our behavior to change. We find ourselves paying a lot more attention to native plants and flowers. We are planting large pollinator plots and managing areas to keep them wild. Pollinators we once ignored, we now find on flowers and we take pictures of them.
* From Forbes, July 20, 2007. The town nearest us, Springfield, has the most variety in temperature, precipitation and wind of any city in North America. Forbes reports: “A slightly elevated city in the Ozarks at 1,266 feet, Springfield sits beneath unstable air (cooler air over warm air) which spurs high winds, including some tornadoes. All the leading weather variety towns are landlocked--land both heats and cools several times faster than water. Springfield is also just close enough the tornado alley area of the Gulf of Mexico to keep things interesting.”
Put your new Beestra in a good place. At the end of the flower season protect your native bees with a privacy barrier, called the Springboard.
Next spring, poke out the little hole and let the new young bees emerge. Be sure to put a new Beestra nearby because the girls like to return to the same area where they slept.
Now you are personally managing a native bee life-cycle. And it was easy and fun.
You definitely don’t want the girls back in the old Beestra paper tubes because of the parasites. Your old Beestra did it’s work and now it can be recycled.
We recommend you make a personal decision to do what you can to help save these miraculous creatures. You may not know if you have a heathy population of wild native bees. We certainly didn’t. We almost never see them coming and going. We know they are there because the Beestra tubes are capped.
We know of no other "Bee Hotel" on the planet that is built for the bees life cycle. You can see detailed instructions here.
You already know how to manage your garden and flowers. And now you know how to manage some of your wonderful wild native bees. It starts with a twenty dollar bill and a new Beestra.
Bingo is a SpokesMutt. It’s a gig job but the benefits are great: cheese bones, long naps and squirrel chases.
All pet owners out know the rule: Show some humanity! The rest is details. So, when you mount a Beestra, you’re a wild native bee manager and they’ll spend most of their lives in your care. You’re now part of their life cycle.
Raising native bees is a lot easier than raising me, so don’t fret. I’m standing by to discourage the squirrels, but the wire screen does a pretty good job too.
We really do live and work on a farm. We don't have a land-line and the cell phone service is TERRIBLE! So, please send us your questions and comments on the form below and we'll get back. Thanks, Ames & Dan...