A BEE HOUSE IN DORSET


Bee House & denizens, Dorset

It took a year before there were many settlers in the new bee house. To begin with, there were just some transients; tiny bees that stationed themselves at the mouth of a hole, retreating from time to time to the depths. I’ve no idea what type of bee they were, but they didn’t leave any building works. And then there were a few wax caps to wonder about. 

The first resident occupied the penthouse.Bee House & denizens, Dorset

The box began to weather a bit during that first winter, and to fall apart slightly. That summer, we had mason bees in many of the holes, with around 60% occupancy – plus some waxed caps. The timber homes were clearly preferred to the bamboo sticks, and the first to fill up. Later, we noticed the first leaf cutters moving in, their green plugs slowly turning brown as the leaves withered.

Bee House & denizens, Dorset

This year, by the end of May, business was thriving. The house was weathered and had no doubt completely lost the heady scent of Garden Centre. The upper storey was more popular than the lower; maybe the horizontal stem of a cox apple tree growing against the old wall was a disincentive for potential downstairs dwellers.

Bee House & denizens, Dorset

Bee House & denizens, DorsetBee House & denizens, Dorset

Two months later, as July fades into August, there are a few changes, but overall the house is much the same. So far, there have been no leaf cutters. And no little ‘peeping’ bees either. I’m disgracefully uninformed about the types of bee to which we offer a home. We’ve replanted much of the garden to benefit honeys and bumbles – with a consequent increase in butterflies and hitherto unknown types of moth. The solitaries are still a bit of a mystery. Time I got a grip, I think. Still, the apples are looking very promising…

Bee House & denizens, DorsetBee House & denizens, Dorset

All photos: Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour

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MEGACHILE CENTUNCULARIS: LEAF-CUTTER BEES IN DORSET


Bee box on a wall, Dorset

This is the first year that leaf-cutter bees have discovered the bee box placed invitingly on a south-facing wall – and only in the last month. Or maybe they had and didn’t like the box. Or the other occupants. Anyway, quite soon they had tenanted the remaining holes in the prestige penthouse log. Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Last week, the LCBs were quite active, so from time to time I watched them. The first one was completing its work in the top-right log on the lower storey. Having packed in the leaves, it spent quite some time perfecting the job, leaving a smooth end to the bright green plug.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Later on I saw a bee engaged in an earlier stage of construction. It chose the same log, and initially went for the middle hole, disappearing with a strip of leaf. It then revised its accommodation plans, reversed out with the leaf and took it to the adjacent hole.

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I found the bees surprisingly difficult to photograph. I had to change cameras to a ‘faster’ one, because a bee would zoom back to the hole with its leaf and dive straight in, dragging the leaf behind it; and emerge suddenly and fly off at speed. Sometimes there was a struggle to get the leaf into the hole, which helped take a shot; or I could see the bee pause in the dark but quite close to the entrance before flying off. But mostly, the comings and goings took me by surprise every time, even though I was ready for them…

Bee box with leaf-cutter bees, DorsetBee box with leaf-cutter bees, Dorset

I checked the plants in the vicinity for the tell-tale semi-circles cut out of the leaves. They seem to have liked a nearby rose and another plant whose name I forget (if I ever knew). They use saliva to glue the cuttings together to build the cells for their larvae. The larvae have a safe place to hatch and develop. They pupate in the autumn and hibernate during the winter. Now that the leaf-cutters have found the box, we are hoping that next year the new generation will go through the whole process again. And that I will be more handy with the camera.

NOTE: I see that these bees are often called Leafcutter bees, or Leaf Cutter bees, whereas I have plumped for a hyphen. I’m going (having retrospectively checked) with the Natural History Museum’s version…

BEHOLD: A BEE HOUSE


I was given a bee house in May. Previously I was the proud owner of a bumblebee nest box, which didn’t seem to be a success until, in early Spring 2014, I watched a small, dozy bumblebee crawl out of it, slowly get its act together, and fly off…

I wasn’t certain how a bee house would work, so I put it in a quiet south-facing out-of-the-way corner, later adding a pot of lavender under it.

Bee House, Totnell 1

After a couple of weeks of nada and niente, I decided to move the house to a length of wall that stayed longer in the morning sun, and to dispense with the lavender.

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This looked more promising, but I was highly doubtful that such a fine multi-apartment abode would find favour with the bees. The holes looked good – a range of large down to very small – but still, it looked a bit… NEW. I thought it would need to be weathered for 6 months to get rid of the smell of ‘shop’. 

Gratifyingly soon, however, I was proved wrong. One morning we found (a) a bee inspecting one of the penthouse suites and (b) 2 partial wax capsBee House, Totnell 3

Note bees on the roof and on the lower storey; 2 partially capped cells on the upper storeyBee House, Totnell 4

The following morning there was evidence of further activity – one completely capped cell

Bee House, Totnell 5Bee House, Totnell 6

Since then a number of bees have taken overnight accommodation in the bee house. They prefer the holes drilled in wood over bamboo holes for a short stay, and at any given moment there are two or three small faces visible.

So overall we are pleased to report that the experiment can be counted a success. The garden has been revitalised during the last 2 years following 20 years or so of benign neglect, and bee-friendly plants have been a priority. So far, so good.

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