By Julie Horner
Earlier this year the Valley Women’s Club engaged AmeriCorps NCCC Team Fire 5 to remove embedded plastic sheeting and invasive growth from under the San Lorenzo Valley Water District Kirby Road substation solar panels that border the Felton Discovery Park adjacent to the new Felton Library. An effort driven by the VWC’s San Lorenzo Valley Native Habitat Restoration Program, the area around the solar panels, not quite an acre of sloping meadow, was cleared by the team one wheelbarrow load at a time over the course of two rainy weeks in January then wood-chipped and planted with California poppies to encourage super-pollinators like the native solitary bee.
Bees provide a crucial service to plant ecosystems by transferring pollen. While most of us are familiar with honeybees, which live communally in hives, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, of the over 4,000 identified species of native bees in the U.S., up to 90% live outside of the colony environment. These bees are called “solitary nesters.” Local examples are the Mason (early spring) and Leafcutter (early summer) bees.
Solitary bees require a supply of mud to nest, and the area beneath the solar panels is ideal habitat due to an open culvert transecting the slope under the panels. The female bee seeks deep holes or tubes in which to lay her eggs. She distributes a supply of pollen and nectar for each of her 20 to 30 eggs and builds a chamber for each until the hole is full of individual nursery cells. Then she seals the hole with plugs of mud for the eggs to incubate and hatch into grubs, which will feast on the pollen as they mature.
To encourage solitary bees to take up residency at the Felton site, bee boxes were added to the list of must-haves for the restoration project. The VWC enlisted Scout Conner Michael Bond of Boulder Creek (see featured photo above) to apply his carpentry and leadership skills to build the boxes, which he parlayed into his Eagle rank candidacy. Bond led a group of nine Scouts and enlisted the help of his dad and brothers to build a series of 10 pollinator boxes with donated tools and materials.
Most of the finished boxes will be installed in the Water District meadow under the solar panels, and some will be installed in the Library Discovery Garden.
Here are a few simple ideas that Eagle Scout Bond suggests to help you build your own “bee hotel” to attract solitary pollinators to your garden.
Choose the Wood
Find a block of wood that has not been treated with chemicals to be the base of the hotel. Choose a piece of redwood as a roof to keep the rain out. Lumber works best because logs may split.
Measure and Drill
Drill deep holes of varying sizes to attract a variety of pollinators and angle up while drilling into the block to discourage moisture from entering. Holes should be spaced about one inch apart. Use a hand or electric sander to make the front of the hotel smooth and remove any splinters that protrude into the holes that would prevent bees from entering or might harm them. When you’re done drilling, dump out the sawdust and use compressed air to remove leftover dust.
Put a Lid on It
Attach the roof, then mount the finished bee hotel onto something solid like a fence post and about waist high, making sure the holes are facing towards the sunny south in or near your garden where the bees will not be disturbed.
Featured photo of Connor Michael Bond by Janeen Bond