Lots of you wanted more info about our balcony bee home, so here it is. We got our bee home from Wildbiene + Partner, a Swiss company. They provide not just the bee house, but a fresh batch of bees each year and a yearly cleaning of your bee home. We love being a small part of rebuilding the endangered bee populations. We love watching our bees fly around and tend to their nests. We also love that these little “pets” have basically no maintenance and don’t require a sitter when we go on holiday.
Note: If you are interested in getting a bee home, do it right away as the mason bees are only active from March to June.
Why have a bee home?
As you probably know, bee colonies are collapsing all over the world at an alarming rate and many types of bees are on the endangered list, including over half of the 600+ bee types native to Switzerland. The causes aren’t entirely clear, but many scientists cite the following causes: parasites, climate change, pesticides, mono-culture, and modern agriculture leading to less nesting opportunities in and around orchards. For more info, I can recommend the Swiss film, More Than Honey (in English and German).
This is a problem because we rely on bees to pollinate the trees and plants that feed us. Many companies, non-profits, communities, clubs and individuals are working on solutions to this problem. One solution is to build up the population of solitary bees (like Mason bees) that don’t live in hives and are not susceptible to colony collapse disorder. Hosting your own bee home for these solitary bees is a small, but important, part of this big effort.
Why get a bee home from a service like Wildbiene + Partner?
You can buy a simple bee home from lots of sources. But a bee home from Wildbiene + Partner includes both a starter bee population and a yearly cleaning service, which is critical to bee health.
Wildbiene + Partner also rents out bees to local farmers to pollinate their crops. So you are part of building up a bee population that directly contributes to your food supply.
Are they honey bees?
No, these are Mason bees (aka Mauerbienen), that don’t make honey but are efficient pollinators, prized by farmers. They just spread pollen like crazy and build nests in bee homes like yours.
Mason bees are particularly suited to the Swiss climate, which is a bit cool. The bees are active from March to June, gathering nectar to feed the baby bees in the nest they are building in your bee home. Mason bees usually stay within a 300m radius of their bee home. They prefer spring fruit and nut trees and spring flowering berries.
Do these bees sting?
Typically no. Mason bees aren’t aggressive, aren’t interested in food, and typically don’t sting. They are quite tame and can even be held, though very gently as they are very delicate.
You will only have a few active bees at any given time. The starter population contains only 25-30 bee cocoons and they don’t hatch all at the same time. In contrast, a honeybee hive contains 30’000-40’000 bees.
What do I do with the bees?
You don’t have to do anything except provide a safe place for the bee home, preferably hanging on a wall with sunlight and ideally sheltered from the elements. Bee homes don’t have to be in the country; the work just as well in the city on a 4th story balcony. You don’t have to provide flowers for the bees, they will find what they need.
In spring, the bees fly around, drink nectar, spread pollen and build their nests in your bee home. They wall up each hole when they are done filling it up with eggs. The females die after several weeks. Over the next few months, the eggs gradually turn into bees, which then hibernate until the next spring.
In September, you send the bee home back to Wildbiene. They clean the home and check out your new baby bees. You can see the stats of your bee home online, how many baby bees, etc. After the cleaning, the company sends the bee home back to you and it sits quietly all winter.
In March, you order your new batch of bees and they come in the mail in a small tube. You simply insert the tube in your bee home. In a few days or weeks, when the weather turns warm enough, the new bees wake up, fly out of your bee home and start working. Any hibernating bees already in the home will dig their way out and start working as well.
Want more info…
The Wildbiene + Partner website is great with lots of details, but only in German and French, not in English yet. So here are a few articles in English about mason bees:
- About Mason Bees on Honeybee Conservancy
- Everything you need to know about red mason bees on Telegraph
- Spring and Summer Bees on Crown Bees
The first photo is mine. The other photos are copyright Wildbiene + Partner AG.