Bee House: What Kind is Right for Your Bees?

Think you might like to become a bee keeper? First, thank you, thank you! Second, consider the bee basics and the bee house options that will get you started.

Bee Basics

As you ponder bee keeping, consider which of type of bees – honeybees or solitary bees – you want to host. You see, although about 4,000 bee species populate the United States, beekeepers typically choose one of these two vital pollinators. Each has its own housing preference so, as a bee keeper, you will be setting up either a hive or a nest.

Bumblebees are a third fantastic type of bee, but we’ll focus on honey bees and solitary bees in this article.

Bee house residents: meet the honey bees and solitary bees

©ccUSDAHoneybeeHive

©cc Courtesy of USDA Honeybee Hive

Honeybees, which are great producers of that sweet stuff on your toast, create intricate colonies to manage their defined social structure. Honeybee colonies can include 50,000 to 60,000 individuals (by contrast, the average bumblebee colony has 50 to 400 residents). Because they are highly colonized, honeybees are protective of their bee house. In the right climate, the honeybees’ active season can last year ‘round.

 

©cc Courtesy of Smoobs Solitary Nesting Bee Houses

©cc Courtesy of Smoobs Solitary Nesting Bee House

Solitary bees, on the other hand, don’t live in colonies and they don’t have a queen or a society. Solitary bees fall into two sub-types – mason bees and leafcutter bees. Mason bees can make nests in tiny cracks and crevices, while leaf-cutter bees make their bee house inside hollow stems or mere holes in wood. To their credit [and ours] solitary bees carry lots more pollen than honeybees and also are less likely to sting.

While they are excellent pollinators, a mason bee’s season is very short, approximately two or three months. As a result, many of the plants that blossom later in the season won’t benefit from the pollination magic of these amazing little insects. Leafcutter bees, however, has a longer season, nearly as long as a honeybee’s.

A Few Details About Bee Housing Differences

Bee nests occur naturally in the wild. Without the help of people, even honeybees live in nests, most often, in isolated locations.

©cc Courtesy of USDA 20120628-OC-LSC-0103

©cc Courtesy of USDA 20120628-OC-LSC-0103

Over time, though, honeybee keepers, have learned the advantage of keeping their crew in a man-made structure — a hive, inside which honeybee colonies can make their home. Large complex hives can accommodate many more bees in the living space. Hives also offer human beings an infinite source of learning and entertainment (not to mention honey). However, hive management requires regular upkeep and expense, along with beekeeper training.

©CCCourtesy of LucyLambriexBeeHotel

Bee house ©CC Courtesy of LucyLambriex BeeHotel

By contrast, solitary bees thrive in less extravagant surroundings. Once installed, these modest bee houses require no upkeep. Solitary bee keeping requires no training. On the other hand, the number of bees in the bee house will number in the dozens, not the thousands. Stinging is less likely with solitary bees, too. In fact, mason bees don’t sting at all. On the other hand, the solitary bee season lasts only a few months and there’s no honey to sell or enjoy.

 

Keep Your Bee House in a Bee Garden – and Check Local Ordinances

Both types of bee house are ideal for a bee garden. The bee house should be placed in a spot in the garden that doesn’t get too much wind, receives morning sunlight and has a source of water for the bees.

There should be no problem keeping solitary bees in your garden. But if you want a honey bee hive, you’ll need to check your local ordinances to find out whether it’s allowed. Your local or state beekeeping association will know if there are any local restrictions.

 

Two Real Life Tales to Guide You

©cc Courtesy of Bruce Ruston Solitary Bee

©cc Courtesy of Bruce Ruston Solitary Bee

City Girl Farming,” a wonderful blog that describes growing and raising your own food in the city, contrasts the experience of keeping solitary bees versus honeybees. “The pros of keeping mason bees are that there is essentially no upkeep or costs involved. At least not really … Honey bee keeping is a bit more intense as far as education and equipment, but once they’re up and going, they don’t require a ton of effort —more than mason bees, but less than you’d think. A big pro to keeping honey bees that’s the same as mason bees is that they pollinate our world, which is essential to our food supply.”

The “Grow Wild” team located in the U.K. offers additional information about solitary bees. “[Solitary bees] are fantastic pollinators: a single red mason bee is equivalent to 120 worker honeybees in the pollination it provides … they are non-aggressive and do not swarm [so] are safe around children and pets.”

Clearly, honey or not, the type of bee house in which you decide to keep bees will sweeten the environment for both you and the rest of us. So, thank you, thank you for linking up to strengthen the food chain process. We bee appreciating you.