The Bee Story



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ONCE UPON A TIME solitary pollen bees went about the important business of pollinating fruits, flowers and vegetables without being helped– or hindered– by humans. Their story has changed greatly in the last decade. Now they are in crisis.

What are Pollen Bees? Sometimes called Wild Bees, Native Bees or Solitary Bees they are all pollen bees! They live on their own, unlike Honey Bees and Bumble Bees that live socially in a colony with a queen and worker bees. Although some species may ‘nest’ together in larger groups, they do not help each other. They each build their own nest, collect their own pollen and nectar, and lay their own eggs without help from any other bees. (Check our FAQ for more information on how bees use our nests.)

There are about 3,500 species of Pollen Bees in North America. Some dig burrows in the ground to lay their eggs. Others like to nest above ground in tube-like cavities such as plant stems or holes in wood left by beetles. Scientifically designed Solitary Pollen Bee Nests mimic these tube-like cavities and the tubes are the correct shape, size and depth to encourage these wonderful, friendly pollinators to make our Bee Nest their home. Mason Bees (Osmia) and Leaf-cutter Bees (Megachile spp) are probably the most well known examples of Pollen Bees that live above ground and are found in our gardens.

Most do not even look like bees. Some are metallic green, others are black, and some look like flies or wasps. Just as flowers, fruits, herbs, vegetables and trees bloom at different times throughout the year, so do different species of Pollen Bees. Some emerge early in the year (springtime) others later in the year, all depending on when their preferred plant(s) bloom. These bees are very gentle and non-aggressive. You can observe without troubling them as they go happily about their business of pollinating your plants and making their nests.


THE LIFE OF THE SOLITARY POLLEN BEE Pollen Bees only live six to eight weeks and during that time their life is spent collecting pollen and nectar to make a bed inside the bee tube. This takes two or three days. Then they lay an egg, close the cell and repeat the process until the tube is full. Female eggs are fertilized. They might lay six to eight eggs. Of these, the last two or three are males, which are unfertilized. It takes several weeks for the eggs to hatch; the larvae then consume the pollen and nectar after which each metamorphoses into an adult bee. Then they lay dormant until the following year to emerge from their nest (12 months from when the egg was originally laid).

At the end of the 12 months, inside the bee tube, the female at the rear wakes first and proceeds to eat its way out of the cocoon. She nips the next bee in line until the entire line of bees emerges. The males mate with the females and then die off. The females then start the whole process over again and pollinate your flowers and plants in the process.

Of course, life for pollen bees is not that simple. The female has many predators, both birds and insects. She has to protect her nests from cuckoo bees that replace her eggs with their own. She also contends with beetles and parasites, like miniature chalcid wasps that try to gain entry to the cell and feed on the larvae. Despite all this she perseveres for the eight weeks of her life, maybe filling two or three tubes before she dies. By installing a bee nest in your garden, you help the Pollen Bee to solve the key problem: finding a safe nest site where her young will be protected.

DID YOU KNOW? …

  • There are 3000-4000 different species of Solitary Pollen Bees in North America. Most people do not know they exist, yet they are all around us.
  • Most are gentle and not aggressive.
  • Pollen Bees will not defend their nests; they tend to retreat if disturbed rather than sting.
  • They can pollinate flowers 15x faster than Honey Bees.
  • They do not travel far from their nest/home so focus their pollination efforts on fewer plants.
  • Pollen Bees fly quickly and will visit more plants in a shorter amount of time.
  • Pollen Bees emerge earlier in the spring than Honey Bees.
  • Solitary Pollen Bees for the most part, are smaller than Honey Bees. The common Bumble Bee is a pollen bee, but of course, is larger than the Honey Bee and does not use our nest. Many Bumble Bees are on the endangered species list.

No amount of fertilizer or water will produce abundant flowers and vegetables without pollination. For pollination, you need bees. With the recent huge losses of bees worldwide, harvests have suffered. 60% of our food requires pollination.

Our Pollen Bee Nests will make a tremendous difference to your garden. You must start your bee conservation program as early as possible as it sometimes takes weeks to attract the Pollen Bees to your Bee Nest.

  • Step 1. Use our plant list to decide which plants are most suited to your garden's temperature zone, and plant a good variety. Include some native wild flowers if possible. You can download our list of plants here.
  • Step 2. Locate our Solitary Pollen Bee Nests around your garden in early spring or summer.
  • Step 3. Fertilize and water your seeds and plants, then watch them develop into a lush and healthy garden.

For more information on Solitary Pollen Bees, check the websites of university biology departments and government agriculture offices.