Sunday, November 22, 2015

A Native Pollinator Bee House Kind Of Day

 Yesterday, November 21st 2015 was hot, humid, and grey with clouds promising, but not delivering a rumored, and much lusted after, cold front.

We are almost to December and my datil pepper plants are still blooming ... that should not BE.

Speaking of BEES, last year, my science students built a habitat, a "bee house", for native pollinators. The plan came from the University of Florida 's website, Native Buzz. This is a great website, check it out if you are propollinator.

The kids built it, loaded it with bamboo and drilled log chunks for nesting sites, and then, contrary to my assurances ... nobody moved in.

I was perplexed about this at first, since anytime I hang a bundle of bamboo sticks under my eaves, the tiny natives find it and seal off every tube entrance within a few weeks.
(They lay their eggs and then seal the bamboo tube)

But, at school, nothing happened, even after the summer.
Hmmm, what the heck was going on?

One day, after yet another search for signs of native bee use of our school beehouse, I decided to straighten up the bamboo stacked on the house shelves.

Instantly I got bit.
Not by a native bee, they basically don't participate in such unlikable behaviors, no, the biter here was the invasive fire ant.
They poured out of the bamboo ... and suddenly the vacancy sign at the bee house made perfect sense.

Mark down yet another negative impact of the imported fire ant. Ants from a fire ant nest nearby had discovered that the bamboo tubes held food ... aka bee larvae, and had taken advantage of them.

Now I looked closer and sure enough, some of the bamboo tubes held dirt residue around the openings. So some bees had tried to use the nest tubes, but the fire ants dug through the plugs of dirt and ate their young.

A dilemma, and not one to be solved by spraying the bee house with pesticides for obvious reasons.

I've been brainstorming a few barrier ideas that involve a pesticide barrier application very low on the structure, axle grease painted on to the lowest portions, or some combination of both... along with neutralizing any fire ant nest nearby.

Me and my freshly (yesterday) installed bee house at home. It will face the same problems as the school bee house... the fire ants are firmly established here at PFHQ.

The bee house in the grand scheme of things.
The garden is a mess. 
Much of it is overgrown with St. Augustine grass and Bahia grass.

I spent much of yesterday disrupting the grasslands and hauling wheelbarrow loads of grass to the gun range where it can stabilize the earthen backstop.

At some point, tired and sweaty from grass tugging, I decided to mount our bee house. I built it months ago, but it had remained prone in the garden until the weather "cooled off ".

A close up.
The recycled fish pond behind it holds gambusia fish and anacharis, but usually is full of blue flag iris and other blooming water plants.
I cleaned them out recently after they completely took over the pond.
They are now down at the real pond, and soon I will restock this one with just a few iris, lizardtail, etc.

This is an old picture of a simple native bee nest project that can be hung from an eave or any sheltered spot.
Bamboo sticks like these will be used to fill most of the shelves in the big bee house, along with some log chunks drilled with appropriately sized holes.
I grow the bamboo here at PFHQ.

Updates on this project will occur sporadically. Input on barriers to fire ants that I haven't proposed in this post are most welcome.

BEE good y'all.


Marilyn Kircus said...

I too love bees and have done surveys at a couple of refuges and helped put together a display on the importance of our native bees as pollinators. I have posters and pollinator activities to share if you could use them.

As to ideas: Putting the base of the pollinator hotel in the pond will certainly work but you may need Cypress to prevent rotting or put in concrete footings first. If you hang boundless from hooks under the eaves or from tree branches, you could add ant moats. I'm sure you can find the directions on Google to make them from tuna cans.

Doug Taron said...

At the museum we have successfully used Vaseline as an ant barrier. It's easy to control where you put it and it persists better than other barriers we have tried.

robin andrea said...

I will definitely stay tuned for this bee-utiful story! Love hearing how you will keep those pesky pests out. Good luck and keep us posted!

Anonymous said...

This winter I will plant 2 acres to pollinator habitat. Wildflower seed selected so the entire blooming season is covered. Very excited about this project. Preparation of the ground included killing off the brome that had been grown there for years, and planting a cover crop of radishes. Radishes that have grown to massive proportions - like two feet long. Hope the wildflowers do as well. The invited pollinators here will live in domesticated hives and pay me back with some fine honey, it is hoped. It's anyone's guess where the already established pollinators live, but there are ample hollow trees in the surrounding area. And thankfully, no fire ants. (And I'd like to keep it that way.) mowgli

R.Powers said...

Mowgli, that is awesome!

I'm trying bug Doug's advice first, 'cause, well, he's bug Doug.

Thanks! That will be my first trial.

Will do. Trying to reduce the post gaps that have crept in this year.