By Stephanie R. Butcher, Coweta County Extension Service
QUESTION: Since spring will be here before we know it, is there anything I can be doing right now to prepare for pollinators that will be coming soon? I want to do my part to protect them.
AGENT: That’s a great question. As a matter of fact, there is something that you can do right now. Have you ever thought about building a nesting box for native bees? Late winter is a great time to make nesting boxes. It’s a neat indoor activity for a dreary, cold winter day that kids can help with too. Make the boxes now so they are ready to set out in early March.
When most people think about bees, honeybees usually come to mind. But there are more than 500 other native bee species that live in Georgia.
Native bees nest in the ground or in cavities, like hollow stems or bored holes in wood. According to the Xerces Society, only 250 female orchard mason bees are required to pollinate an acre of apples.
Adding native bee nesting sites to your garden is one of the easiest ways to increase pollinator numbers. The most common types of nests are drilled wood or bundles of hollow tubes, like straws or thin bamboo. Nests should be placed 3 to 8 feet off the ground and positioned facing south or east.
To build a drilled wood nest, drill a 3- to 5-inch hole in untreated wood without going all the way through the wood. Then, drill a variety of hole diameters, from one-quarter of an inch to three-eighths of an inch, all approximately three-quarters of an inch apart. Holes that are smaller in diameter should be 3 to 4 inches deep, and holes more than one-fourth of an inch in diameter should be 4 to 5 inches deep.
The native bees that will fill these cavities will usually produce a single generation each year. These bees typically live for four to six weeks, and they are focused entirely on reproducing, laying eggs and storing food for the next generation. Female bees will make individual cells in the cavities, where they will lay one egg and pack away little balls of pollen they collect on an average of two to 20 foraging flights. Once enough is food stored, they seal the cell with clay or grass and begin work on the next cell. It takes about 24 hours for these female bees to complete one cell.
One female native bee may produce 20 to 40 eggs in her life, which will typically fill two to five straws or cavities. These cavities will sit, sealed over, until environmental cues like temperature and humidity trigger the emergence of the next generation of adults.
You should consider your nesting boxes as “disposable”. You will only want to use them for about a year before you replace them with a new box. This will keep bacteria and fungus from growing in the box.
For more information about building nesting boxes or protecting pollinators in your landscape, contact the Coweta County Extension office at 770-254-2620 and ask for “Creating Pollinator Boxes to Help Native Bees.”
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