First Time Solitary Bee Keeper

First Time Solitary Bee Keeper

The following is a wonderful story from Tom Pawlicki, a novice solitary bee keeper in Illinois.

Last winter I was looking into the possibility of starting a bee hive as a tool to pollinate my organic kitchen garden when I was made aware of solitary bees and the role they play as the great pollinators of North America.

Without the need for expensive equipment such as hives, protective clothing, honey-related appurtenances and the time commitment necessary to keep honey bees, providing a habitat for solitary bees seemed like an easier, less expensive and less time-consuming alternative.

With this in mind, I bought two solitary bee houses, one for mason bees and one for leafcutter bees and ordered bee cocoons and tubes for both. To protect my new garden additions from rain and predators, I constructed a C-shaped shelter out of marine plywood, mounted it on a 2 x 4 pole, and protected it from birds with chicken wire and from ants and other crawling insects with a ring of “Tangle Foot” around the supporting pole.

To my delight, the bee cocoons hatched within days of being placed by the bee houses and immediately began filling the tubes with the next generation. The big news, however, is what happened in my garden. In the many years I’ve been gardening, I’ve never had such yields. It’s as if every vegetable flower gets pollinated and bears fruit. I couldn’t be more pleased.

One thing I didn’t expect was the entertainment factor. Whenever I’m working in my garden, I always take time to stand in front of my bee houses and watch the comings and goings. I can literally be one foot away from the house and the bees will fly around me and aren’t bothered by my presence at all. Day by day I have watched the tubes being filled up. It’s fascinating. At one count I had fifty-two tubes filled in my leaf cutter house.

Then as the summer wore on, some of the older tubes began hatching and flooding my garden with new workers. You can tell the older tubes from the newly filled ones because the leaf plugs in the older ones have dried out and turned brown while the newly filled tubes the leaf plugs are still green. The close-up photo shows new tubes with green plugs, old tubes with brown plugs, and empty tubes with debris where hatching has occurred. (Crown Bees note: When the climate and timing is right, leafcutter bees can develop and emerge in the same season that they were laid, these are called second generation bees. These newly emerged bees extend the amount of time your garden is pollinated!)

A closeup of leafcutter bee tubes with a variety of stages of activity.

A close-up of Tom's leafcutter bee tubes with a variety of stages of activity.

Other than the initial construction of the bee house shelter, which apparently isn’t even necessary, the introduction of solitary bees to my garden has been labor and maintenance-free and a great source of food and entertainment.

I’m glad I found you guys.

-Tom Pawlicki

We're really glad that you found us, too, Tom! Thank you for such an encouraging story about your journey with leafcutter and mason bees!

Story update:

Tom sent a photo to show us that every flower on this tomato's branches was pollinated and formed fruit that's been harvested.

Every flower on this tomato's branch was pollinated and formed fruit!

Every flower on this tomato's branch was pollinated and formed fruit!