Native Bees

Native Bees

New Zealand has its own special population of native pollinators (Bees, wasps, beetles, moths and butterflies). Adapted to our climate and unique flora they can play a big part in the pollination of all of the plants in our gardens as well as the important role they already have pollinating our native plants. Some of the easiest of these to invite into our gardens are solitary bees and the mason wasp.

These pollinators are often forgotten in our gardens where we look for honey bees or Bumble Bees for our pollination services. Native pollinators are under threat through the overloading of their ecosystems with introduced bees, widespread use of herbicides and fungicides and the depletion of their habitat. By creating habitat in your garden you can play a role in helping boost numbers and you get the bonus of a more diverse pollination workforce.

Food water and a place to stay.
As all of these workers eat pollen and nectar a constant food source of flowering plants is essential (and beautiful). Water is also easy to provide. You can create your own shallow ‘puddle’ in a dish of water. A layer of sand or fine shingle in the bottom creates a safe place for them to drink without getting too deep.

Nesting habitat is a bit more specialised however. Some of the easiest native pollinators to ‘invite’ into your garden are solitary bees and wasps.

Native Bees
Our native bees are all solitary. They overwinter as pupae and emerge in spring with the warmer weather. Females make tunnels in banks, bare ground or use existing tunnels in trees or logs. Some fill these tunnels with a series of cells, while the ground nesting bees make one cell at the end of their tunnel.

Each cell contains pollen, nectar and then a single egg. The egg hatches, larvae eats the food, pupates and then when the weather warms up in late spring breaks the clay ‘door’ to carry on the cycle.

As a lot of these bees are hairless they usually emerge later in spring than their hairy introduced counterparts. There are over 40 species of native bees in New Zealand all adapted for pollinating our native flowering plants.

These bees are great pollinators for any veggie garden where they can be seen visiting some of the smaller flowers such as; Onion, coriander, silver beet, lettuce and a range of brassicas. Commercially native bees have been used as a pollinator for lucerne. Alongside paddocks of lucerne grown out for seed a special piece of bare ground was prepared to encourage these little workers.

Native bee log.
On a sunny day your bee log will be humming with loads of bees gathering nectar and pollen for their tunnels.

1. Find an untreated log or piece of wood at least 2 meters long and 15 centimetres in diameter.
2. Cover the top 2/3erds of your log with holes between 8 & 12 millimetres in diameter and 10 centimetres deep.
3. Choose a sunny spot to ‘plant your log’ with the top 2/3erds above ground.
4. Find a roof for your log to keep it dry especially overwinter when pupae can become susceptible to fungi.

Native bee box.
Ground nesting bees can be found in soil all over New Zealand. (On our last summer holiday we accidentally pitched our tents over a colony –which kept us up with their buzzing all night) Some prefer to excavate their burrows in flat ground and others. If you already have sandy soil it is easy to keep a patch clear for them.

If you do not it is as simple as filling a porous container (an old nail box, or terracotta pot –at least 20cm deep to allow for a decent tunnel depth) with slightly compacted sandy soil. The soil needs to be well drained but damp. Place your box on the ground outside so that it can drain but gets rain so that the soil stays moist and holds together.

You can place your container either on its side or upright as there are bees that will live in each place. If your soil falls out you may need to mix in a little soil from your garden, fine clay or wet it down.

Mason Wasp.
New Zealand native mason wasp (Pison spinolae) has cousins all over the world. Orchardists all over the world are making use of mason bees as an easy care pollinator for their trees. Mason wasps are often mistaken as bees. You can tell these wasps from native bees by their smaller waist and bigger size. They only have a very small stinger so cannot puncture our skin very easily.

Adult Mason wasps eat pollen and nectar but feed their larvae by collecting orb web spiders. They look like stubby black bees and make a loud buzzing noise as they build their mud nests.

Mason wasp motel.
The female wasps choose a wide variety of places to build their nests; cracks, tunnels, hanging coats, gaps in stacked firewood.

Mason Wasps are not fussy as to where they build their nests. They are larger than the Native Bees so prefer wider holes.

1. Collect a range of bamboo with a hole diameter of around 1-1.5cm. Cut into lengths of 15cm.
1. Wrap 15cm. by 5 cm pieces of old cereal boxes around a pencil to create cardboard tubes. Secure with tape.
1. Tie tubes into a bundle tightly with string.
2. Hang Mason Wasp Motel in a dry, warm, sunny spot or place in a bug hotel.

It is very important to keep overwintering pupae dry and cool as they can succumb to various fungi. Smaller motels can be moved indoors to a cool dry space overwinter.