City bees

September 24, 2008

For the last few months, we’ve been having a lot of trouble with fruit setting on some of the plants in the vegetable garden. While there are lots of potential causes of this (not least of which is me constantly forgetting to spray the plants regularly with milk and neem oil to fend off powdery mildew and munchers!), we also seem to have lost a lot of our hummingbird and bee visitors that hung out in the yard all spring when the trees were in bloom. So I’ve been doing a lot of research on how to attract native bees (which, lucky for us, are solitary and don’t sting!) and what to plant for both bees and hummingbirds, since we have a lot of empty perennial beds near the vegetable beds right now.

Turns out that, in the wake of the honeybee disappearance, there are some terrific resources out there for bringing back native mason bees to the city:

  • UC Berkeley has a whole site devoted to urban bee gardens that includes not only a stellar plant list, but also tips on how to plant to attract bees. For instance, bees apparently need blocks of a single type of plant, so many of the beautiful landscapes you see around town don’t work for them, even if the plants themselves are bee-friendly. And the ground-nesters hate mulch (doh!).
  • KQED did a Quest episode and also a web feature on bringing back city bees, too.
  • CityBees hasn’t been updated recently, but has some good info on bees in San Francisco nonetheless, including more details on keeping honeybees (who, unlike mason bees, live together in a hive and produce honey).
  • The National Wildlife Federation has a how-to page on building mason bee houses, which you can do by drilling 5/8-inch-wide holes in just about any old block of wood (if it hasn’t been treated).
  • See what mason bees look like at Free Range Living.
  • Finally, not a DIY type? You can order some really nice-looking mason bee houses at these (and other) websites: Mason Bee Homes, The Backyard Bird Company, Clean Air Gardening, Planet Natural, Gardeners’ Supply, and more.
Bee gardens from KQED Quest

Bee gardens from KQED Quest

Next on the list: a bat box, since I saw our first bat the other night, and we could sure use some help with mosquito control….plus, I was surprised to find out that bats are also important pollinators (especially for figs!) Who knew.

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