Most parts of the country have our leaves falling and leaving little pollen/nectar available for our bees. My surviving dandelions, while nourishing to bees, have few takers. Soon, many of us will have snow and no pollen available whatsoever. Where have our bees gone for the winter? And even more important, can you do anything to assist their survival?
It depends on what type of bee you are thinking about; social or solitary. You can contribute to their over-wintering health by understanding “who they are” and what simple winter needs they have.
First, understand that unless you’re a queen in social bee hive, most all bees live just about 6 weeks. Their wings can only flap so many times before they wear out.
Social Bees – Honey bees are great examples of social bees. These wonderful bees are highly developed and work together as a well-run company. With eggs being laid throughout the flowering season, we see these bees throughout most of the year. Each bee has a specific chore; the queen (to lay eggs throughout the spring/summer), egg tenders, pollen gatherers, nectar gatherers, sentries, etc. The bees all work towards keeping their queen alive through the winter months. The hive gathers in a ball around their queen and attempts to regulate the internal temperature to about 93°F. The stored honey is their nourishment through the cold months.
What to do: A recent article, by James Zitting, tells a bit more about the process honey bees go through and natural methods honey bee hive owners should consider.
Bumble bees, another well-known social bee, will all die off during autumn except for a few queens. They survive underground in their summer nest with a small reserve of honey that her hive collected for her. During the cold months, the queen will shift into “diapause” a form of hibernation.
What to do: Since bumble bees are ground nesters, ensure that your yard isn’t like an immaculately clean house. Leave fallen sticks and leaves in place through the fall and winter. Undisturbed portions of your yard are vital!
Solitary Bees – Most gardeners don’t realize that a vast number of bees in their yard are independent female bees showing up only at specific times of the year. Each female is a queen, and they live their short life placing pollen and eggs into holes in twigs and reeds or under rocks hoping their progeny will remain undisturbed.
Mason bees are solitary bees that typically use tubes, reeds, and holes in wood for their nesting sites. Each female is a queen and will lay her egg in gathered pollen. She’ll separate these pollen/egg chambers with bits of mud, leaf, resin, etc. depending on her species.
A common mason bee, the blue orchard mason bee, is a gentle bee that is becoming popular with gardeners due to their amazing pollination ability. After a busy spring, the females die in early June, their eggs hatch into larva which eat the pollen in June/July, and these larva then spun cocoons in July to metamorphous into adult bees (still in cocoons) by October.
Mason bees are simple to raise if you learn their characteristics. Learn more about these gentle bees in in our website's mason bee basics pages.
What to do: for managed mason bees, the cocoons should be protected from foraging rodents, birds, or raccoons. They make tasty treats! See more on harvesting and how to store them in the winter. For wild solitary bees in small tree holes, please leave the lower trunks of dead trees in your yard. Multiple species can use the various holes and cracks available. Solitary ground-dwelling bees will benefit from undisturbed portions of your yard as well.
A last thought. Many gardeners are learning to grow their own produce. Planting the right mixture of food, having great organic soil, and ensuring the right water content is used are all important. Please realize that you can enhance pollinators in your yard as well. Consider raising gentle spring mason bees. We’ll teach you how on www.crownbees.com. As you become more aware of their needs, we’ll assist you with encouraging other native bees as well.