Bumble Bee Homes During the Housing Crisis July 15, 2015 09:08
Last Sunday I had the privilege of attending a workshop led by Brian Campbell, a beekeeping master and holder of an incredible amount of experience and information. The topic was native bumble bees, and ways we can support them as their populations free-fall across the globe. Turns out, just like a lot of humans, bumble bees are also facing a major housing crisis, so at the end of this article are how-to's for bumble bee nest making. The Bumble Bee is an extremely important figure in the process of pollination often overshadowed by the domesticated and European-introduced Honeybee. Brian explained some reasons why we can’t depend solely on honeybees - as non-native species to this territory, honeybees aren’t adapted to native ecosystems and miss out on pollinating native plants. Also, bumble bees and honeybees have different pollinating techniques that serve different plants in different ways, which reaffirms why biodiversity even among pollinators is important. Brian demonstrated how bumble bees buzzing in flowers isn't just another random cute thing they do, but they are actually buzzing the C note because those frequencies vibrate out pollen!
In learning how incredible and important bumble bees are, I've also been learning some of the reasons why they are on the decline. A big "agh!" moment for me during the workshop was when Brian mentioned that in the spring of 2014, new research results showed the global pollination deficit grew to more than than 60%. Loss of habitat, fragmentation of ecosystems, urban sprawl, use of pesticides, climate change, spread of disease from domesticated, introduced, and factory-bred bees, these are all contributing factors to the absence of bees we are currently witnessing and feeling. Humans, bees, animals, flowers, we all depend on the process of pollination in order to survive - which is why learning to make homes for these little buzzing buddies is the least I can do to try and help them out. Bumble Bees are opportunists and not very good diggers. They don't make their own nests. Instead, they fly around until they find a suitable squat. Sometimes they squat old mouse nests, bird houses, tea pots, anything warm and den-like. They like sunny and warm spots. Mostly, they cannot handle the stress of being moved or disturbed. Brian mentioned one of the problems with bumble bees' loss of habitat is that many of the species here are too sensitive to be moved around and dislocated. Brian sometimes offers services in Bumble Bee rescue when folks find nests in places that are for sure going to get disturbed - like the compost bin. Brian will arrive with his yellow bumble bee nest made universally suitable for most of the 39 species in BC, and move them to a safer spot. Though only displaced meters away, Brian explained how sometimes the bees would get so discouraged and depressed after the move, they would stop foraging and they would die after the food in their nests ran out. For these reasons, it is of absolute importance that nests are put into spots that are most likely to not be disturbed, moved or agitated while they are in there.
Affordable Bumble Bee Housing during the Bumble Bee Housing Crisis: Right now, there is a huge lack of homes for bumble bees - so much that many of them are still flying around looking for suitable nests in June and July until they can't go on anymore and they die. This is why it is important to make room for them. So, how can we make Bumble Bee homes that we can afford? Luckily, we can do so using mostly repurposed and easy-to-source materials!
What You'll Need:
-1 Gallon Plastic Nursery Pot with drainage holes at the bottom of the walls on the side, rather than at the bottom facing down (See picture--this is the type we sell)
-1 Plastic Saucer
-2 Big Staples (that will peg the nest into the ground) OR a Brick
-Upholsterers cotton OR Wool OR cut up white cotton t-shirts (bees don't like too many colors in their homes)
-Straw, gravel, woodchips or bark mulch
Directions:Drill a hole in through the middle of the saucer and through the middle of the bottom of the nursery pot. Put the bolt through the first washer and place them through the saucer and then through the bottom of the nursery pot. Then secure the second washer on the inside of the nursery pot with the nut. At this point, when you turn nursery pot upside down, it will have a little raincover protecting the holes at the top, which will be the bumble bees’ entrances.
Inside the nest, put some unupholstered cotton, wool, or cut up white 100% cotton t-shirts that will act as insulation and ventilation. When ready to install, this will be resting in the middle third of the nursery pot. Underneath it, and what the cotton will be resting on, will be the gravel or mulch, which will act as drainage. This will take up the bottom third. The top third will be empty (this is where the bees will do their thing!).
When installing it, look for a lot of flowers that bumble bees like (rhododendrons, heathers, violas, poppies, wildflowers, dandelion, huckleberry, clover, lupins, foxglove, buckwheat, sunflowers, thistles, sedum, mallow, blueberry, golden rod) in a sunny spot - south-facing is ideal - that is unlikely to be disturbed, protected and somewhat hidden since bumble bees don't like anyone knowing where they live. Dig a shallow hole - enough to cover the bottom third of the nest. Ready with the cotton and drainage mulch/gravel already in, place the nest into the hole and secure it with one staple pegged on in each side. This is so that raccoons or other animals don’t knock it over, which they may try to do being the scavengers they are. You can also place a brick on top instead of buying the staples as a cheaper and less wasteful option though it is potentially less secure. Once secured, fill in the soil around bottom of the nest so it is partially buried. And there you have it - a bumble bee home!
As winter approaches, the Bumble Bees in the nest will die off and disperse. The mated queen will leave the nest and bury herself in soil for the rest of the winter. She'll emerge the next season in early spring to look for a nest. During these winter months, it's recommended to bring the nest in and freeze the cotton inside. If the nest was lived in by bumble bees, they'll leave traces inside which will attract new ones when you bring it out again in the spring. You can even break your cotton apart to inoculate new nests that have never been lived in.
Oh yeah, and you can leave as many nests around as you like! Bumble Bees aren't territorial. Guerrilla Bumble Nesting Project?! I hope yes.
by Kelsey Cham Corbett
July 15, 2015