Building Bee Hotels with Dr. Travis Prochaska (Transcript)

Jan 20, 2021 | 0 comments

Tonight, I wanted to get into kind of expanding what we talked on last year. Last year, I had the opportunity to talk about and really introduce some of the common native species of bees that are alongside you in your gardens and your landscaping areas each and every day. And this has become a very passionate topic for me over the last few years so I just want to talk about what can we do to kind of conserve those populations? And I really want to focus a good portion of this presentation really to building bee hotels – some people know them as bee condos – so that’s where they’re going to go through here tonight.

I always like to start with this image here I know it looks kind of busy but it kind of brings together all the interesting aspects that are beneficial. There’s not just our solitary bees, but too many of our beneficial insects including that of like butterflies and ladybugs that may be in an area

so we always want to think about: What do we need to have at any given location that will help be a benefit to some of those beneficial insects? Of course, we always want to think about one of the most important things – probably that have a water source. This can be as simple as a birdbath in the area, maybe there’s a water fountain nearby. I know here at the Master Gardener location here in the Minot’s area. the mouse river. the service river. is literally right next door and serves as a good water location for many of our beneficial insects.

One of the other things to think about in any given area is there some sort of shelter nearby? Whether you’re a solitary bee or a ladybug on those hot days being able to escape the heat, or even on those windy days, this is North Dakota so it can be pretty windy from – time in this region; so just having an area to get out of there.

Perhaps one of the biggest things though is having multiple, at least two, types of flowering plants that’s really in bloom throughout much the growing season – so really from the late April early May going all the way through September maybe even early October. Having a food source nearby is going to be very important to help keeping them excited to be in that area.

I really wanted to talk about some of the more basic stuff first and I talked about the water source already and I said this could be a as simple as a birdbath in the area and I just kind of want to take a quick moment to step back towards that. Bird baths work really good in any given landscaping area – I just want to put a little bit of an asterisks on it. Places where standing water can be found from time to time can actually draw any pest insect. Of course, I’m thinking of mosquitoes. I was reflecting back to 2019 and I know in the Norwich area West Nile virus was found in that area. So we always have to think about when we do have a water source nearby, how can we lower the chance of having a site where mosquitoes might flourish? One of the things we talk about from time to time is if you have our birdbath take away some of the surface area. You can do that by adding some rocks to that birdbath that takes some of that depth away, makes that water a little bit more shallow, and a little bit less attractive to mosquitoes in that area.

One interesting thing I have found in the last month or so really on my Facebook page, to be honest with you, is some of those advertisements that pop up on the side, I’ve been seeing one that is a little bit bigger than a hockey puck – maybe two inches a little bit more cross in length or diameter has really been interesting. On top it has a solar panel on top and you set that in the middle of the birdbath and what that is almost like a small water fountain. So, it gets that water movement to come up an inch or two into the air and it kind of comes back down. Using that to put motion in the water can also be a big benefit to reducing an area for mosquitos because they tend to be drawn to areas with water that’s stationary. Just having that little bit of motion could be there.

As we learned a year ago, we discussed some of those solitary bees and we talked about 70% of them are native ground dwellers. I think oftentimes we think about the honeybees and some of the bumblebees that could be nearby, and we know they’re above ground. I think they are sometimes found in bee boxes that have been developed by honeybee farmers or growers in the area. We think of bumble bees at some of those species tend to be above ground, but 70% of our native bee populations are actually ground dwellers. So, in any garden location, in any landscaping area, just making sure there’s some bare ground that’s available for them to make a small den.

Remember, most of our solitary native bees are very nonaggressive. It’s very rare for them to really sink [?] so having them near a place to be able to make a cavity is going to be very important to them. I am going to say just kind of making sure some of that bare ground is a little bit raised it a little bit more we do know when we get some of those rainstorms in the area we don’t want those bare spots and necessary be those draining areas where water is X keeping from that landscaping .

That leaves the other 30%. That’s going to be the cavity dwellers and for the bee hotels that’s what this is going to focus on. They’re really cavity dwellers, they’re going to look for areas like the bee hotel even in trees for example you might have a word picker in the years past maybe had some small cavities in the side of the tree. In the past you might have had some small wood-boring beetles nearby that carve some small holes. Once those are abandoned, some of these small native bees will actually occupy them and take them over and becoming important source for a shelter for some of these native bees.

One of the big questions I’m often asked at some of my demonstrations is: It’s the end of the growing season, what should we do with our garden sites? Is it important to clean them out now? Is it important to maybe leave some of that debris behind for the next year? I guess there’s kind of a two-fold answer and I’m going to wear both hats here.

I’m going to first start with my agricultural hat. I’m the crop protection specialist out of my night leaving some of that debris behind can be a place of protection for some of the pest insects. Of course, I’m thinking of something like canola flea beetles that can impact members of the mustard family – that gives a little bit of insulation to protect them there so that part of that makes you think well maybe we should clean it out.

But if I take that AG hat off and put the horticultural hat on, I always suggest leaving some of that behind. Of course, it leaves a little bit of insulated layer here. When I look on the right side here, it looks like some of the lawn beginning to green up. I see some of the leaves on the trees. But it looks like this person began to really clean that out at the end of the fall last year – so that takes away a little bit of a layer of protection or insulation from some of those pollinators.

When I come to the left side, I see a little bit more organic debris that has been left behind. I know it’s not as eye appealing as getting it cleaned up as you see on that right photo, but a lot of those native pollinators: they’re not too concerned about how it looks. They’re really just concerned of – is there that barrier there that could help it through in winter? And some of these winters here in North Dakota can be harsh from time to time. Just having that extra layer can be beneficial. So again, it’s kind of a juggling act for some insect pests. It might be a bad thing to leave that behind but for our beneficials it’s really a good thing to leave behind.

So, what is the last thing we could think about for native big conservation? And that’s really going to be providing a bee hotel. And that’s what I’m going to focus on for much of tonight’s presentation.

 I always like to start off with this because one of the big questions I get is: How big does a bee hotel have to be? Does it have to be decent-sized? Can it be small? What does it need to be made out of? And so, I like to always start this off with showing you some examples of some of them.

When I start up in the upper right photo here, you can see it looks like a person just went out and, four- or five-inch segments, cut up a piece of a tree branch that was able to be hung up. Of course, if I rotated that around you’d be able to see some of the drilled holes that have been made into the side of that. And we’ll talk about why those holes are important here in a second.

As I move down a little bit you can see we’re getting a little bit more closer to the size of a birdhouse or maybe even a bird feeder in size. Different size holes is going to attract different types of our solitary bees and they’re not necessarily worried about who their neighbour is. It doesn’t necessarily have to be all mason bees. You might have a carpenter bee in one hole. And right next door you might have a Blue Orchid bee. They’re not too concerned about who their neighbour is; So, having an assortment of sizes there is going to be important. And I’ll talk about the sizes here in a moment and the types that it really brings in.

When you look in that lower left photo towards the top of that feeder, you see it looks like they’re straw that’s there. You can almost see a wire mesh that’s put across there so that triangular area is actually not necessarily there for the solitary bees like those lower areas are that’s actually there for some of our other beneficial insects so for example maybe a butterfly comes in they can insert their over positive or a Glenn device into that and lay eggs into that area it kind of just gives a little bit more protection for it to those eggs to be there in hatched later. Of course once they hatch they’ll leave this area more to an area where they can feed more.

Hust to show you how big they are. When I move to that upper left corner, you can see this looks like a garden on top of a building here. And you can see a pretty significant bee hotel there that’s been left behind that takes up a good portion of that wall.

I always like to show this photo up in the upper left. It’s just kind of that surprise you know kind of maybe that early-morning photo these temperatures warming up and he’s going to start becoming more active. You can just kind of see bursting out of that bee hotel. You can see a little bit of a cover there on that hotel, probably made of mud, that is dried out in time that was placed there for protection.

When I could jump down to the lower right, you see another type of bee hotel – one that’s made out of reeds. That’s another option you can have for a bee hotel. You can have one made out reeds or bamboo, compared to one that we saw in the last slide where it looked like a block of wood with several holes drilled in.

As I kind of mentioned earlier, I came from that Nebraska area. I was a farm kid growing up in Eastern Nebraska. One of the main things that seemed to be everywhere around our yard and many of our neighbour’s yards out on the farm was wood pallets. They just seemed to be everywhere and every spring they seemed to come in by the dozens – that we just never really knew what to do with them. I found it really interesting that in one of my research some other growers, some farmers, found it an interesting way to bake a build a little bit of a bigger bee hotel there. You can almost see a combination of both of those blocks bee hotels that are there.

When I look towards the bottom, I see some of those reeds that are implemented there too. So something that I always wondered growing up was, what do we do with this, some of our seed pallets, when they arrive? This gives an interesting suggestion of what we can do with some of those wood pallets.

Let’s get into a little bit more detail here. There are two types of bee hotels that can be made available for purchase or that can be built. One we have is made out of block wood – untreated wood, always trying to stay more to the untreated side. We don’t know how some of those chemicals could interact with some of the bees coming in and out. If there are chemicals associated with it, it might actually deter them from it ever being used.

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