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Wildlife gardening made easy – part two.

No. 2 – Make your wildlife garden a haven for solitary bees.

Everybody knows about honeybees, and how important they are as pollinators. But, actually, far more pollination is done by other types of bee – Bumblebees (24 species) and solitary bees, a fascinating group of nearly 250 different species which live quietly around our gardens and countryside.

It is easy to make your wildlife garden attractive to many species of these beautiful creatures. All are unobtrusive, and none of them sting so maybe that is way they are largely unknown.

First, mining bees of the genus Andrena. These like a south-facing bank of bare but undisturbed soil. We showed you in article 1 how to create one of these while digging a pond. If you are not digging a pond, simply heap up some soil in an open space, or strim the plants off an existing bank. It must be an open sunny position, preferably facing south.

Probably the first guest to move in to your bee habitat will be the tawny mining bee, Andrena fulva. They are active early, sometimes even in March, and the foxy-brown fluffy females can be seen busily digging holes in your new earth bank.

Andrena fulva – the tawny mining bee by © entomartIn

Many other species of many different colours, will follow. Each burrow contains a pollen store and just one egg.

Another common mining bee is Andrena bicolor.

Andrena bicolor- by S. Rae from Scotland, UK - Andrena (Euandrena) bicolor (female), CC BY 2.0,

As a food source for those early builders, you can plant nearby spring bulbs, such as narcissus, tulip, hyacinth, etc.) and early wildflowers such as dandelions (Taraxacum officinale), primroses, violets, flowering currant (Ribes sanguineum), and of course, all the fruit trees, cherry, plum, apple, pear, etc.

Another group, the “Mason bees”, build solitary nests inside existing cavities or holes. These include pretty bees such as Chelostoma campanularum, which loves campanula flowers and nests in holes in dead wood. Old walls in our home territory of Hampstead are festooned with Campanula Pocharskyana, and it is one of our “indestructible” wildflower collection. It is always worth searching the blue campanula flowers for little mason bees.

Harebell Carpenter Bee (Chelostoma campanalarum)- female- Shutterstock pic by @thatmacroguy

Also, the Patchwork leafcutter bee- Megahile centuncularis, which cuts little circular pieces out of rose leaves to line her nest. She looks like a fluffy wasp, but like all of this group, never stings people.

Patchwork leafcutter bee- Megahile centuncularis by The Packer Lab - Bee Tribes of the World, Attribution,

They gather material around the garden to build the little “cells” where they will lay their egg. Some snip off bits of leaves, some collect mud. These cells are almost always constructed in a hole. The mining bees dig their own holes, as described above, in soil, but the carpenter bees and mason bees, of which there are scores of species, use pre-existing holes in dead wood, stones, brick walls, etc. Naturally, they use the holes made by wood-boring insects or natural cracks and cavities.

Small dead tree with natural exit hole of a wood-boring beetle.

But you, the thoughtful gardener, can provide exactly what they want. There are many bug-hotels on the market, but you can do much better than that.

Get some logs or old fence posts, set them in the ground, and drill holes at about 1m-1.5m above ground level.

The holes should be in groups, and varying in size between about 5mm and 10mm diameter by about 80mm deep.

Or you can make bundles of hollow reeds or canes, set at about the same height. But drilled wood, as above is just as good, and more durable.

The mason bees, which use cavities in stones, walls, etc. will also readily take to artificially drilled holes, also about 5 -10mm diameter, by 80mm deep. You can drill these in a brick wall, stone wall, or even in a single brick, or brieze block, but, like the wood holes above they should be in groups, and set about 1-1.5m above the ground.

Solitary bee enthusiasts have designed bee holes with removable glass or perpex panels fitted to the side of the drilled wood-block, so you can actually watch the little bee mothers and their families in action.

The hairy-footed flower bee uses her hairy feet to comb pollen off her furry body.

A hairy-footed flower bee (Anthophora plumipes) seen hovering at dead nettles in April- by Keith Hider

The beautiful ivy bee loves many late flowers, not just ivy.

A macro shot of an ivy bee (Colletes hederae), seen nectaring on ivy flowers in early autumn - by Keith Hider


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