In Oakland’s lovely Lakeside Garden there are plenty of wonderful things, like exotic palm trees and ishi doro lanterns, cacti and rhododendrons. There’s also something I’ve seen no place else — a hotel for bees!
Why, oh why, you may ask, O Gentle Reader, do bees need a hotel? Don’t they live in hives they make in holes in trees? Or in skeps like the one on the Utah state seal? Or in Langstroth boxes?
No doubt you’re thinking of Apis mellifera, our ubiquitous, irrepressible honeybee. It’s true they need no hotels. Nor do the other bees you’re likely to be familiar with — bumble bees in the genus Bombus — for their queens wake every spring and zoom hither and yon searching for an abandoned mouse nest in the grass or soil in which to build their own colonies.
But what about Hylaeus modestus, Dianthidium pudicum, Anthidium mormonum, Megachile periherta, Osmia nemoris, Ashmeadiella californica, Hoplitis producta, Heriades occidentalis, Anthophora furcata, Xylocopa tabaniformis? These mason bees, carpenter bees, masked bees, carder bees, leaf-cutter bees, mining bees and dozens of other species you never heard of all nest in wood or the stems of plants, either in hollows they make themselves, or in existing cavities.
To attract and nurture these little-known bees, you can build a bee hotel (or bee condos, as some upscale hexapod realtors call them), either by drilling nesting blocks in old lumber yourself or buying them at the garden store. Use different diameter drill bits because different sized bees like different sized nests! You can see that the Oakland bee hotel has made use of all sorts of drilled nest blocks but also bamboo and even drinking straws!
All these bees, which most people never notice, are important pollinators. With our beloved Apis mellifera under threat from colony collapse disorder, it’s more important than ever to help out all our other pollinators.