mason bees

A Buzzing Foreplay

Spring has erupted with buzzing avengence in my garden. Whilst the birds may be doing it, the bee’s are most certainly doing it! After spending a happy few weeks last year watching a troupe of excited Red Mason bee females nest away in my insect hotel, and following it up this year by making my own one with a little help from the RHS, I was excited to see the first bees’ emerging from their cocoons a few sunny weeks ago. However, I hadn’t realised that the majority of these first hatches were males, and now the females have arrived all hell has broken loose.

If you step outside my backdoor there is a blissful buzzing in the air, the baking south facing wall is host to almost thirty Mason bee’s, discovering nesting holes, sunning their bristly bodies, whirring their tiny wings. And now the honey coloured females have arrived, well, the fight has begun. Males are pushing, biting, stamping on each other in a bid to procreate, and whilst happy females think only to their egg laying future, I think there will be some snapped antennae, stung torso’s and dead males before the day is out!

Procreation, the way bee’s do it

Another male fancies his chances

Artichoke Hotel

At our allotment there seems to be a proliferation of Jerusalem Artichokes. You can’t give them away for want of trying, and you will often hear the almost pleading cry of “do you want some artichokes?” followed by a scurry as allotment owners hurry in the other direction. It’s no wonder really, their tiny indistinguishable yellow flowers are far from eye catching, they spread like wildfire, only to be outdone by couch grass, and their kitchen use? Well a couple of bites and one may well blow the house down with the resulting methane. Its not good, I can tell you, even my cats avoided the duvet that night. However, I have finally found a positive use for such a plant, and that is in the construction of insect habitats!

Last year my insect hotel was kind host to a happily nesting group of female Mason bee’s. Solitary by nature, they will often nest together, filling hollow tubes with mud to make tiny chambers enclosing solitary eggs and delicious delicacies for their hatching offspring. And whilst these insect hotels are readily available from many garden centres, not only are they far from cheap, but I’m sure that the sustainability of the components is worryingly low.

Simple components: Wood (or pre-made box), hollow sticks (bamboo, artichoke)

Inspired to make my own, especially as the happy drone of a single female probing vacant tubes on my existing hotel filled my ears, I suddenly realised that the hollow stems of Jerusalem Artichokes are practically perfect. Done on the cheap, all you need is some wood to make a box shape and some hollow rods to place inside for nesting. Being the typical hoarder that I am, I found a vile old shelf unit which was languishing dustily in my garage and within 30 minutes a new hotel was complete. Don’t worry if some of the stem is obscured by pith, I’ve found that the bee’s simply remove this, saving you the job! Simply cut the hollow tubes into equal lengths so that they are the width of the wooden box. Cram as many in as possible so that the structure becomes rigid and then hang in a sunny position, preferably near a water source for those thirsty buzzing girls. It won’t take long before you have a lot of happy campers.

Not all tubes have to be bee friendly, an assortment of wildlife will take up residency

Placing on a south facing warm wall, above the other, my clematis will quickly clamber up and provide necessary shelter for other happy insects to frequent this new abode. And due to not all the rods being a bee friendly size, there is plenty of room at the inn for other garden friends! Its easy, its very cheap, and is great for getting Mason bee’s in particular (very good pollinators by the way) into the garden.

Place in a sunny spot to encourage the bees

Rain Stops Play

London is awash. Droplets of life falling on seedlings, winding their way down panes of glass, forming rivers in the street. And whilst life’s exilir is welcomed, especially by me due to my belief that I must’ve once lived as an amphibian or other aquatic gem, the constant dribbling has all but stopped play. One can happily prune and cutback to a certain extent in downpours, but mowing (which plays a pretty big role in any garden maintanance firm) is out of commission, and working with the soil in such weather can result in the natural structure simply breaking down to form a muddy slush.

Another resident enjoying the climate

However, as I sit in bed listening to the glorious sound of a falling sky, there are still gardening things to be getting on with. Any gardener knows that to be successful it takes time, experience, and a whole load of natural wonders. Where’d we be without our birds, our frogs,  or bustling hedgehogs? Knee deep in snails for starters. And as our urban landscape becomes more hostile towards our garden friends, I, along with millions of others, will be doing my best to help out where I can.

Launching a huge biodiversity drive, the RHS are doing their part with a Chelsea biodiversity garden and loads of information on how to encourage wildlife into the garden. As you may have seen, my bee retreat proved highly successful with a group of female mason bee’s last year, and the RHS have a fantastic plan on how to construct your own. Half way through my own I realised I didn’t have enough larger stemmed rods, and with imminent grey clouds I’ve put off a scavenging expedition to Epping Forest. And whilst we await the emergence of our spidery friends and red ladies, now is an ideal time to make your bee’s welcome, throw down a few logs, let that little patch of nettles grown on a little, and plan to incorporate a few more nectar delights in your patch of green this year. And, with parts of Britain expecting snow later this week, continue pampering you’re feathered friends, they’ll return the favour with a glorious dawn chorus.

Wonderful Bees

As many of us know, the humble bee is facing a crisis. With a virus sweeping through its nest, and lack of pollination rich feeding fields, this key insect family is facing crippling population loss. The repurcussions of this for us, humans, is dramatic. Bees are the main source of pollination for our food, for our cereal crops, for our fruit. Morning coffee and tea – plants pollinated by bees. Cold fresh milk, produced by cows, fed on cereal crops pollinated by, yes, you’ve got it bees.

Whilst I don’t own any hives I’ve been happily watching a group of female mason bees at work as they set up home on the wall of my house. The red mason bee, whilst being solitary, tends to group together for breeding. It is a fantastic pollinator and extroadinarily interesting to watch as it builds its nests. Each hollow is seperated into chambers by using mud that they’ve collected. A single egg will be laid within each chamber which later hatches and develops into a wonderful little bee of its own. I can’t wait to see what happens!

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