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Solitary Bees: Pollination Superheroes!

There are 250 species of solitary bee in the UK, which makes this the largest grouping of bee species in this country. These bees do not make honey, nor can they secrete wax, and they live in individual hollows; secreting their eggs and stores of pollen in separate chambers, often sealed with mud or leaves.

Pollination Superpowers!

Solitary bees are divided into Flower Bees, which collect pollen by sticking it with nectar to special leg hairs, Leafcutter and Mason bees, which catch it on hairs on its abdomen and Yellow Faced Bees, which swallow the pollen before regurgitating it into the nest.

Because solitary bees don't have hair on their legs which forms a 'basket', they drop pollen, which makes them more effective pollinators than sociable bees. Amazingly, a single Red Mason bee can pollinate the same number of plants as 120 worker honeybees which is why this species in particular has been introduced to orchards in Ireland where they are non-native.

Where do they live?

Some bees nest in the ground in hollows. Some nest in snail shells covered with leaves and hidden from view. Some make their homes by hollowing out stems or making use of beetle holes. You can also make a 'bee hotel' for Leafcutter, Wool Carder and Red Mason bees by bundling together short lengths of cane with string and hiding them in your hedges and trees.

How can I encourage these extraordinary insects into my garden?

Solitary bees like clean water, undisturbed ground, a garden with beetles and thus beetle holes, brambles, snails and plenty of open pollinated and wild flowers. This might be seen as 'untidiness' but a savvy gardener will know how to strike the right balance.

Comments (6)

  1. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    It is really important to make these solitary bees at home in the garden. Idont know too much about yhe individual species, but as you say, the nasons and leafcutters are likes bees on speed, covering much more pollination then other bees. I found some strange leafy cylinders packed in my laser level case a couple of years ago now, I needed this tool for something, realised quickly what they were, prepared a couple of old Canary nestboxes with newspaper and replaced the cylinders in these. When I checked in spring they had hatched and dispersed. Then I realised the bees were back in the shed casing the place for new homes for their cuccoons, so off to Aldi, picked up a bug box and sure enuogh that is now occupied. SUCCESS, and my Workshop is no longer targeted by them.

  2. Grower

    Good Earth Gardens

    That's lovely to hear! I have made the bee 'hotels' before but never had success. I've seen solitary bees nesting on holes in a patch of lawn before.

  3. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    I never thought I could actually transfer invidual cells, but they obviously hatched by spring so I was surprised it worked. In the end I suppose the news paper was still cellulose like the leaves, and I kept it all dry in a disused ferret hutch, still I thought I did ok, I certainly felt I learned something. Perhaps this could be a basis for a bee hotel, as long as it all can be kept dry inside?!?!

  4. Grower

    Good Earth Gardens

    Bee hutches! Social housing for solitary bees! :-) :-)

  5. Grower

    Good Earth Gardens

    (Yes that sounds like an excellent idea!)

  6. Grower

    Rob Johnson, Green & Furry pet and garden care

    I think it's a departure from a ferrets, they and bees don't usually mix, but the hutch is now a kindling store, so it is dry enough.
    A bee I always loved to see when I lived in Hampshire was the miner bee. I couldn't work out whether they were communal or solitary. They all seemed to have their own individual hole in the ground, but these were always bunched together, so I suppose this is a community. These little jet black bees spread from the Mediterranean some years ago now, they are as avid pollinators as the solitary bees and seemed to just rise out of the ground from nowhere, not always good if your a gardener in the vicinity but I never got near enough to find out whether or not they had a sting, but they were great to watch with their busy way they had with them.

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