Caring For My Bees

I’ve already told you about my excitement at learning that I can raise bees without much effort. The Backyard Pollinator will let me have non-aggressive leafcutter bees in my yard.

So now that I’ve got my bee barn, I’m anxious to get my leafcutter bees out buzzing around, helping the vegetables and flowers.

Not so fast! Just because I’m ready to hang my bee barn doesn’t mean the bees (actually bee larvae) are ready for me to put them out.

There are some key rules or guidelines to follow to have success with the bees. With Kathy’s help, here are some things I need to know before doing anything with my Backyard Pollinator:

I need to wait to hang my barn: Like until daytime temperatures are consistently above 20C and it’s consistently above freezing overnight. In Saskatchewan, a good rule of thumb is waiting until after the May long weekend. That’s usually the same time the garden gets planted around here, too.

I need to think carefully about where to hang my bee barn: The larvae need protection from rain (causes mould in the cocoons) and direct sun (cooks them), but they need warmth. So don’t choose a fencepost, or out in the open on the side of a building. Under an eave is the best location, facing east or south, as long as the sun won’t be directly on it. If you choose a north location or somewhere that it doesn’t get as much sun, it will just take longer for the bees to hatch.

My bees won’t come to life immediately: The bee larvae are in dormancy in the bee barn. It takes about 23 days of temperatures as warm as 30C for the bees to hatch. At a lower temperature, or with less sunshine, it will take longer for them to emerge, up to 5 weeks. So I likely won’t see them emerge to provide the benefits of their pollination until late June or early July, making them perfect for our gardens and flowerbeds.

I wonder if the bees will go far out of my yard: They use a variety of flowers to gather pollen and nectar, usually foraging close to their nesting block if enough food is available. If pollen and nectar are scarce, they will forage 100-200 metres. But the 200 bee cocoons I got in my Backyard Pollinator is a very small amount for the area they use as a home base. With adequate food supply, the nesting block is familiar to them so they almost always stay close to lay their larvae in the Backyard Pollinator, ensuring more bees next year.

I wonder if the leafcutters interfere with birds, other bees, or otherwise disrupt the local ecosystem: The leafcutter bees will work in unison with other bees. As Kathy reassured me, these bees are used all over North America for alfalfa seed pollination, wild blueberry pollination on the Eastern Seaboard, and for other crops as well.  They’re likely already in my area. It’s not known if birds eat them, but magpies and downy woodpeckers have been known to peck at the larvae in the fall. Once activity seems to slow at the barn, in late August or early September, watch for those pesky birds and perhaps remove the insert. Otherwise, the bees are a natural part of the environment, providing the benefits of pollination.

I want to ensure I save the larvae for next season: At the end of the season, usually in late August or early September, the insert should be taken out of the barn and placed in a cloth bag. Don’t try to pry out the larvae! The insert should be stored at a temperature between 5C and 15C over the winter, so a fridge, cold room or semi-heated garage should work. And while I’m at it, I’ll take down the cedar bee barn itself, ensuring the beautiful handiwork from Futuristic Industries is ready to be re-hung with the nesting block in the spring.

If there’s anything else I need to know, I can always visit the Backyard Pollinator website, which has a wealth of information, or check the online user’s guide.

I’ll keep you posted on how things go with the bees this summer.

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