San Lorenzo Valley Native Habitat Restoration Program Busy with Bees
The Valley Women’s Club’s Native Habitat Restoration Program engaged AmeriCorps NCCC Team Fire 5 to remove embedded plastic sheeting and invasive plant growth from under the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Kirby Street substation solar panels that border the Felton Discovery Park. The area around the solar panels, not quite an acre of sloping meadow, was cleared by the team one wheelbarrow load at a time over two rainy weeks in January then sheet-composted and wood-chipped. The team then broadcasted California poppy seeds to encourage super-pollinators like the native solitary bee.
Alone Again, Naturally
Bees provide a crucial service to plant ecosystems by transferring pollen. While most of us are familiar with honeybees, which live communally in hives, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, of the over 4,000 identified species of native bees in the U.S., up to 90% live outside of the colony environment. These bees are called “solitary nesters.” Local examples are the Mason (early spring) and Leafcutter (early summer) bees.
Solitary bees require a supply of mud to nest, and the area beneath the solar panels is ideal habitat due to a culvert transecting the slope under the solar panels. The female bee seeks deep holes or tubes in which to lay her eggs. She distributes supplies of pollen and nectar for each of her 20 to 30 eggs, building a chamber for each with a daub of mud until the hole is full of individual nursery cells. Then she seals the hole with plugs of mud. The eggs incubate and hatch into grubs, which will feast on the pollen as they mature.
Welcome to the Neighborhood
To encourage solitary bees to take up residency at the Felton site, bee boxes were added to the list of must-haves for the restoration project. The VWC enlisted Scout Conner Michael Bond of Boulder Creek to apply his carpentry and leadership skills to build the boxes, which he parlayed into his Eagle rank candidacy. Bond led a group of nine Scouts and enlisted the help of his dad and brothers to build a series of 10 pollinator boxes with donated tools and materials.
Some of the finished boxes will be installed in the Water District meadow under the solar panels. Some will be installed in the Felton Discovery Garden, and others will be deployed at other project sites in the valley.
Make Your Own AirBeeNBee
Here are a few simple ideas that Eagle Scout Bond suggests to help you build your own “bee hotel” to attract solitary pollinators to your garden.
Choose the Wood
Find a block of wood that has not been treated with chemicals to be the hotel’s base. Choose a piece of redwood as a roof to keep the rain out. Lumber works best because logs may split.
Measure and Drill
Drill deep holes of varying sizes to attract a variety of pollinators and angle up slightly while drilling into the block to discourage moisture from entering. Holes should be spaced about one inch apart. Use an electric sander or sand by hand to remove rough edges to make the hotel’s front smooth so the bees can enter the hotel safely. When you’re done drilling, dump out the sawdust and use compressed air to remove leftover dust.
Put a Lid on It
Attach the roof, then mount the finished bee hotel onto something solid like a fence post and about waist high, making sure the holes are facing towards the sunny south in or near your garden where the bees will not be disturbed.
Build it and they will come
Solitary bees are considered to be “super pollinators;” because they don’t make honey, they spend most of their energy pollinating. These native pollinators have co-evolved with our native plants, so planting natives in your garden will better attract the solitary bee. It might take some time for these locals to discover and use the bee house – up to a year – and you will notice plugs of mud and debris stuffed into the entrance of the drilled holes when they have taken up residence.
Human activity, including the use of pesticides, has reduced bee populations of all species. Providing shelter increases bee abundance and provides a fun way to learn about wild bees.
The San Lorenzo Valley Native Habitat Restoration Program integrates environmental and community needs to restore the riparian habitat and ensure the ongoing health and beauty of the watershed.