Give your baby solitary bees the best possible start in life!
Now that your solitary bee house is full of baby bee cocoons, how can you protect them over the autumn and winter to ensure they have the best chance of survival, ready for next spring?
Although the female bees will have done their best to leave their young protected – including providing them with food stores of pollen and nectar inside their cocoons and separating each cocoon with waterproof layers of either leaves or mud – we can give them an extra helping hand.
Protect your baby bees from the rain
The most important thing you need to protect your solitary bees from is the rain. In the UK we get pretty wet winters, and any rain ingress can result in damp and mould inside the box, killing off the baby bees.
Many of Wildlife World’s solitary bee hives have excellent over-hanging roofs to stop driving rain getting in but it’s still best to move your box temporarily to a sheltered spot – or even better place it inside a garage, shed, lobby, porch or inside your fridge. Baby bees like it to be cold, but not freezing, and a constant, stable temperature. So don’t put them inside the house where it’s likely to have central heating, or on a window sill.
Stop the birds getting the eggs
If you plan to leave your box outside, in a sheltered spot, then you need to protect it from birds. As our Ecologist, Chantal Brown says, “Woodpeckers in particular will have a great time pecking out all of the baby bees and could probably do a whole box in less than a day.” A depressing thought when you know how long it’s taken the female bees over the springtime to fill the hive.
Instead, cover the front of your box with a mesh square of chicken wire, or similar, which can be bought from garden centres. Secure it to the front, and leave it on there until the start of next spring, just before the bees are due to hatch.
Solitary Bee Winter Husbandry
You can go one step further, if you have the time, you can remove the cocoons containing the baby bees and keep them separately until spring arrives. This also gives you a chance to properly clean the box out, giving next year’s female bees the best possible location for laying their eggs.
Inside you should find healthy, shiny looking cocoons which appear a little like small kidney beans. But you may also find tiny flecks of bee poo and remnants of mud and leaves from last year’s eggs which have hatched. You may also find evidence of parasites, like small yellow larvae of the Houdini fly, characterised by its bulging red eyes, which should be definitely be removed.
The healthy cocoons should be eased out, cleaned and dusted off with something soft like a children’s paint brush, and then placed on a piece of dry kitchen roll inside a small Tupperware or plastic box. This can then be placed in the fridge or inside a garage or shed for the whole of the autumn and winter.
The rest of the cassette should then be thoroughly cleaned using a brush like the Wildlife World Hygiene Brush Kit, together with hot water and an eco-friendly washing up liquid. Make sure the cassettes are fully dry afterwards, before reassembling the bee hive.
It does take some time and effort but the rewards pay off, as Chantal says, “this is the most involved solitary bee management. It’s for people who are keen to learn about solitary bees and give them the best chance of survival.”
What to do with your baby bees come spring
Once springtime is in the air, you should take your baby bees out of the fridge or garage and place each cocoon back into the bee hive it came from. It’s best to place them inside the tubes.
If you haven’t been able to inspect your bee hive this year because it doesn’t open up, you can instead place paper liners inside the tubes at the start of spring before the females lay their eggs. Then once autumn comes you can remove the paper liners open them up and you will be able to see, clean and keep your cocoons.