5. How to Raise Summer Leafcutter Bees
5.4 Wait & Watch Bees Fly
5.4 Wait & Watch Native Bees Fly
The best part of raising summer leafcutter bees is watching them come and go from their bee house. The time you spend watching the bees is not considered a chore!
After you release your bee cocoons, it can take time for bees to return and show signs of nesting. Male bees emerge first and wait nearby for female bees. Female bees need to mate, get to know the area, and come back to claim a nesting hole. Give the bees at least two weeks to get settled.
After mating, the female will claim a nesting hole and use it as a shelter at night and during poor weather. Starting at the back, the female bee will start to build a protective leafy cocoon and inside she will place a pollen loaf made of pollen and nectar and then lay an egg. The mother bee seals the leafy cocoon with several layers of circular leaves and begins building another cocoon.
She will repeat these steps until she runs out of space, then she’ll add an extra thick layer of leaves, called a capped end, at the front end of the nesting hole. Depending on the weather, it can take several days for a small bee to fill and cap a single nesting hole.
Pro Tip: At night, use a flashlight to peek into the nesting holes. Look for bee faces (or bottoms) peering back at you. Female bees at the back of the nesting hole can be hard to see.
Remember to bee patient. Many first-time leafcutter bee raisers thought that their bees flew away, and are surprised a few days later by a leaf capped end.
Bees are wild creatures and can decide to move on. For reasons unknown, the bees may nest elsewhere. Sometimes moving the bee house a few feet to a warmer or better location vastly improves nesting. If you chose to move the bee house during bee activity, move it at night to help any nesting female bees reorient to their surroundings in the morning.
Bonus Bees: Leafcutter bees are bivoltine, meaning that some of the eggs develop quickly and emerge as adults in the same season as they were laid. Second-generation bees will emerge if the weather is warm enough for long enough. Simply leave your nesting holes in the bee house over the summer and second-generation bees may return to nest again.
The evidence of the emergence of second-generation bees is a large hole in capped ends and leafy debris. Unfortunately, with each generation, the amount of bees nesting in your trays will diminish as bees disperse to nearby nesting sites. You may need to supplement with a new order of leafcutter bee cocoons every few years.
Pro Tip: Wild bees and beneficial wasps may find the leafcutter bees’ 6mm sized nesting holes to be just the right size for them, too. Evidence of wild bee and wasp guests are capped ends made of different natural materials. Take notes and mark the wild nesting holes with a colored marker to help you remember the guests when you harvest cocoons in the spring.