Photo: For the love of bees and butterflies

Most people are familiar with honeybees as great pollinators, but don't forget about the housefly-sized mason bees, bumblebees or butterflies. (Credit: Lindsay Coulter)

All winter I looked forward to one particular sign of spring — the emergence of my mason bees (a solitary bee, not a honeybee). Last year, I put up a mason bee house and bought 20 bees for 20 dollars. I longed to call myself a beekeeper, but figured I'd have to wait until my bee babies survived the winter to make that official. And they did!

My yard is now no longer just a place to BBQ and my dog's favorite spot to lift his leg. With nine more sleeps until Earth Day 2011, why not create habitat for wildlife where you live?

Help the bees

Bees sometimes prefer backyards and patio gardens to large plots of cropland. Creating a bee-friendly yard is simple. (Warning: encouraging bees might triple the yield of fruits and veggies in your garden!)
• Choose native plants to attract native bees
• Pick flower colors bees like: blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow
Make a bee bath
Make a bee house (never used cedar, it's insecticidal)

There are three kinds of bumblebees: those that nest underground, those that nest at ground level and those nest above-ground.

Bees that nest in the ground benefit your garden by:
• Improving soil quality
• Increasing water movement around plant roots
• Mixing up soil nutrients

Ground-dwelling bumblebees will nest in a compost pile because they love the heat, or use abandoned mouse holes. Above-ground bumblebees feel right at home in bird houses, especially those that weren't cleaned out the year before.

Be a good neighbour to bumblebees and don't disturb them. They have work to do!

Create a butterfly garden

Whether it's a tiny balcony or a few acres, you can transform your green space into a butterfly garden and help offset habitat destroyed by development, roadside mowing, or wetland drainage.

You'll need two types of plants; nectar plants for food and host plants where butterflies lay their eggs. (Note: butterflies and hummingbirds share many nectar flowers, so efforts to attract one may have the bonus of attracting the other.)

• Tiger Swallowtails choose nectar plants like lilacs or bee balm. Nearby willow, alder, or apple trees can host the larva.
• Painted Ladies choose nectar plants like aster, cosmos or zinnia. Host plants include thistle, mallow or hollyhock.
Monarchs choose nectar plants like milkweed, lilac, goldenrod and cosmos. Host plants include plants in the milkweed family and cosmos.

How will you create habitat for the bees and butterflies where you live?

Lindsay Coulter, Queen of Green

April 13, 2011

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Mar 25, 2016
5:57 PM

Hello, I would like to know where to find mason bees. Thanks Tim

Mar 29, 2016
11:51 AM

Honestly, you likely have mason bees already in your garden or yard. They could be using holes in the siding of your home as nests?! But can you buy them, too. Try your local garden store or purchase online (e.g., BeeDiverse or West Coast Seeds). Best, Lindsay Coulter the Queen of Green

Oct 06, 2013
9:45 PM

This spring a group of ground nesting bees took up residence in a small flower bed next to my back door. As summer progressed they became very industrious with streams of workers flying in and out of the nest. As we spend a lot of time in the yard it was almost comical the way we would be hit by bee after bee if we wandered into the flight path. In September with late summer heat they occasionnally stung one of us but we were never seriously bothered by them. The nest seems dormant or perhaps abandoned now. Do I risk a severe problem next year if I leave them alone?

Aug 03, 2013
12:46 PM

Can you post photos of the various types of pollinators (and their stages of development) so I know which ones to kill on my apples trees and which to nurture? Thank you!

Jun 10, 2011
11:30 AM

I am taking your list of bee friendly plants and turning it into images of beautiful blooms. Hopefully they will inspire people to include bee friendly varieties in their gardens.

May 09, 2011
1:25 PM

I saved a lost and starving bee today. :D Trapped in our garage and clinging to the window this natural bee was dying. Thanks to some great advice I once read about saving bees, I was able to save this wonderful bee! All it took was a small amount of honey & water and some time. :D I made a difference & you can too!

Apr 27, 2011
2:26 PM

Great Post :D thought you might like my machinima film the butterfly’s tale~ Bright Blessings elf ~

Apr 25, 2011
8:25 PM

I have an article up at that discusses the urgent situation developing in the bee world. Hopefully everyone will have the time to take a look and get familiar with the challenges faced by the industry itself as our pollinators come under tremendous stress from a mixture of business practices, pesticide use and mites that have become endemic in hives as a result of globalization and cross-border sales. Here it is. Please comment if you are also concerned about the future of food security and the loss of our bees.

Apr 19, 2011
12:14 PM

I can help Olde Eden Farm, click on the active links in this post to see my bee house instructions: or I also added a newer bullet point under “make a bee house” for another resource.

Sara, you’re right. You need to have early, mid-summer and late season blooms to feed bees throughout their lifetime! I provide a list of plants and other related tips under the hyperlink “create a bee friendly garden”. Do pass it on!

Apr 14, 2011
7:19 PM

Yay Queen of Green! I’m always so happy to see people promoting a pollinator friendly garden. I’ve tried to provide a variety of nectar and pollen sources in the past, but this year I’d like to add some bee houses and see what happens! One hint I’ve heard is that it’s best to have a garden that has open blooms available for the entire length of the summer. Planting flowers that bloom at the same time may end up limiting the food sources available to your bees, and that can risk them starving or having smaller broods. And like you say, always go with native flowering species when possible. Thanks for the tips :)

Apr 14, 2011
5:47 PM

I grow Scarlet Runner pole beans on our front picket fence—lovely red flowers plus the beans are good to eat when young and tender; the flowers attract repeated visits by hummingbirds, so it’s a win-win for everyone. A story to relate: I planted nicotiana plants one spring at our cottage after composting the garden; the plants grew to an enormous size that year with very large blooms. This was on the north shore of Lake Erie, where summer storms can become very furious; this weather seems to result in sightings of unusual species of bird and insect life, that I presume have been blown off-course from their usual habitat. After one such storm I was on our back deck when I heard a strange humming sound—I thought it would be a hummingbird but was startled when I turned to see a butterfly which was—I kid you not—the size of a dinner plate. I stared as a long tongue-like affair, at least 6 inches long, unfurled to ‘sip’ at each bloom.

Apr 14, 2011
5:36 PM

Are there any web pages where we can find plans for making bee shelters?

Apr 13, 2011
8:10 PM

We’ve been raising mason bees for several years now, and just put out this year’s batch of pupae. We are down this year—about 70 pupae from a high of 250 or so the year before. Not sure why—a cool summer, pesticides in neighbouring yards?

We grow a large, complex, organic garden: fruits, veggies, ornamentals. Sun, shade, some of each. Grasses, perennials, shrubs, roses, trees. We try to have something in bloom from April to October. Mason bees are short-lived, but we also host a surprising variety of wild bees and domesticated honey bees throughout the season. The bumble bees are already foraging despite the lingering cold, and last year the leaf-cutter bees turned the Louise Odier rose to lace. (Any other insect would be in big trouble for doing the same, but it’s a bee! How charming!)

And we garden organically. Bees are in trouble. There is likely no single cause, but pesticides are one thing I can control, so at least I am not adding to the problem. We see a sadly limited number and variety of butterflies, but we do get many types of dragonfly (hint: they love to perch on garden stakes. The more you stick into the ground, the more you will see!)

Also, come fall, be a little less-than-perfect about your garden clean-up. Most wild bees are solitary, meaning they don’t live in a large hive. Rather, they will either lay eggs in, or the last surviving fertile females will curl up in, hollow stalks and stems and crevices in bark. If you slash/prune/burn in the fall or very early spring, you may destroy a bee population without meaning to. For example, the afore-mentioned leaf-cutter bee has probably laid eggs or is hibernating in the canes of the Louise Odier rose. I did not prune it until mid-March, and have left the pruned canes in the garden for now. As the weather warms, any surviving bees will hatch in my garden and be fine.

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