Bees raising young

Hole in log  ©Janet Allen
A hole further excavated as a nest

We provide a number of places for bees to raise their young, including:

  • bare ground
  • old logs and other wood
  • (unintentionally) our house

We also have a variety of man-made bee houses, both homemade and commercial.

Bare ground

bumble bee nest ©Janet AllenBumble bee entering its nest under a log

Since about 70% (!) of native bees nest in the ground, we make sure we have bare ground available (in other words, not covered with plants or mulch).

Bumble bees in particular need natural areas to nest. We have little lawn, and also no heavy layers of mulch so we have plenty of nesting areas.

This bumble bee is going into its nest under one of the logs lining our planting beds. This nest was just a few feet from our back door, yet we had no problem with the bees.

bumble bee grass nest  ©Janet AllenBumble bee grass nest

This is in the same general area as the nest pictured above, but a different year.

I believe there may have been a shrew in this grassy area during the winter. Bees will often nest where rodents have nested or under old grasses, such as prairie dropseed.

Bee nest hole ©Janet AllenBee nest hole

This bee (actually I think a yellow jacket, not a bee) is taking some grass down into the hole beneath our native grasses in the backyard. This was right next to our path and about five feet from our sliding door that goes into the backyard.

I was initially a little concerned since this seemed perhaps a little too close for comfort (at least with yellowjackets), but we had no problems all summer.

Live and let live generally works pretty well, I guess.

Old logs and other wood

Logs ©Janet AllenLogs line all our paths

We've collected logs when we've seen them put out to the curb or, more rarely, when we've created them ourselves.

At first, I thought of them as an inexpensive, natural-looking border for our flower beds, but now I realize that they're a valuable nesting areas for bees.

Beetles often stake their claim on this resource first, and their holes and tunnels make it even more useful for native wood-nesting bees. Notice the logs standing upright toward the back of the photo along the path, and note how they're being used (in the next photo).

Bee nest in stump ©Janet AllenBee nest in stump

This wall of stumps standing upright along the path into the back yard finally reached the end of its life as a path edging, but they were still a valuable resource in my habitat before they totally decayed. (Besides, I've always enjoyed watching wood decay into rich humus.)

We have a pretty good supply of replacement logs since so few people think of them as useful, and they just put them out to the curb.

This was some kind of leaf cutter bee taking a leaf down into the stump to use to separate the egg cells.

Leafcutter's leaves ©Janet AllenLeafcutter's redbud leaves

And where do the leafcutters get their little circles of leaves? From our plants, of course. This doesn't hurt the plant, and actually creates quite an interesting pattern I think.

I later read somewhere that redbuds are actually a favorite source of leaves for this particular type of leafcutter bees.

We also have had manmade bee houses for native solitary bees.

Our house (and other buildings)

Honey bees  ©Janet Allen
Honey bees being removed from a local nature center's building

Although it is not our intent, we've had some bumble bee nests in various places next to our home (never actually inside, of course, unless you count the garage). Although it's not our first choice for bee homes, it's a small repayment for the many services they provide, including making our delicious garden produce possible.

On the other hand, honey bees — because they store honey and the colony grows and grows — can be a real problem. Our local nature center found them in the walls of their building and hired someone to remove them.

bumble bee nest at the side door ©Janet AllenBumble bee nest at the side door

This bumble bee nest was under the edge of the house near our side entrance, which serves as our primary entrance. (You can see a bee entering beneath the shingles right about in the middle of the photo.)

In this case, the bees were a little less friendly. I never got stung, but I got chased a few times.

I think they were fine until I started spending a lot of time with my camera right up next to their entrance. They finally had enough I guess.

bumble bee nest in garage  ©Janet AllenBumble bee nest in garage

One year, the bumble bees decided to nest in the garage—not exactly in our house, but it comes close. The photo was taken looking down to the garage floor, the sheetrock wall at the bottom of the photo, and the wooden step at the right.

Despite some misgivings (ours, not the bees'), it worked out fine. The only real inconvenience was that we had to remember to never close the door to the backyard since that's where they were entering and leaving.

There was a lot of activity in this small area (both bees and humans since that's where all our tools are), but we managed to coexist just fine.

Bumble bee  ©Janet Allen
A beautiful bumble bee at summer's end — maybe a queen?

It was reassuring, though, to remember that this nest was a one time thing. At the end of summer, only the queens survive, and they go hibernate somewhere for the winter and won't be returning to this nest.

We were glad to have provided a place for the colony to produce next year's bumble bees.

BUT we did learn to keep the garage door closed from then on so they didn't build in the house again. After all, it's our house, and I try to provide enough places for them outside.