Group Is Giving Away Hundreds of Homes for Native Bees

The Bee Conservancy is looking for groups that support food growth, education, or conservation.

native bee house
The bee house was designed to attract and sustain native bees.

The Bee Conservancy

When you save bees, you aren’t just saving the bees, you’re saving the community.

That’s why environmental nonprofit group The Bee Conservancy is handing out hundreds of free native bee homes across the U.S. and Canada in hopes of boosting native bee populations. Right now, one in four of North America's 4,000-plus bee species is at risk of extinction.

“Having grown up in a ‘food desert,’ a low-income area with limited access to nutritious food, I’m very passionate in my belief that everyone should have access to fresh vegetables and fruits,” Guillermo Fernandez, founder and executive director of The Bee Conservancy, tells Treehugger. “Research shows that having bees in a community farm or garden can increase crop yield by up to 70%. But if you want local food, you really need to have local bees.”

As part of its Sponsor-A-Hive program, the group is offering 500 native bee homes to community-focused organizations that support food growth, education, or ecological conservation. (Two hundred were awarded in fall and 300 are being awarded this spring.) Eligible groups include community gardens, nature centers, schools, tribal organizations, parks, and zoos.

“We’re looking for organizations that share our passion to nurture local bee populations, create habitat for them, and support their communities and local food systems,” Fernandez says.

The homes were created with commitment to sustainability and local communities. Designed by woodworker Cornelius Schmid, they were built with Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, sustainably sourced wood. They’re manufactured by Brooklyn Woods, a group that teaches unemployed and low-income New Yorkers woodworking and fabrication skills. The program was supported in large part by Garnier.

“Most people are familiar with honey bee hives, and colonies of honey bees that can live in dense populations that exceed 50,000 bees per hive. However, native bees live a mostly solitary existence. Seventy percent of them live underground, and the rest live in holes found in wood or reeds,” Fernandez says.

“The latter group is who we are focused on with our native bee houses. Since most bee species travel only a few hundred feet from their homes to gather resources, planting a pollinator garden or hanging one of our bee houses can have a significant and positive impact on species such as the leafcutter, mason, and small carpenter bees in your community.”

Group members extensively researched what attracts and sustains native bees and added design elements to the house to support them. Unlike many commercially available bee houses, this one has three types of bee tubes for nesting. The mix of tubes ensures that many types of bee species can use the house and also decreases the chance of pests or illness being transmitted between bees.

They’ve also incorporated the concept of a landing board from honeybee hives. In a hive, bees will land on those boards before going inside with their loads of pollen, nectar, or water. They will also gather outside on the landing boards on hot days, Fernandez points out.

“By adding to our bee house a set of removable shelves that also act as landing boards, we’re creating an opportunity for awardees to observe the bees that land on the boards. Not only will we be able to observe and identify the bee species that has moved in, but also note their health, the color and type of pollen they’re carrying, and register any unique behaviors,” Fernandez says.

“We’ve all heard of ‘bird watching.’ Maybe these bee houses will usher in a new type of activity, ‘bee watching’? In addition, the overhangs provided by boards help protect against the elements such as rain and wind.”

Groups that receive the houses will also be given educational materials and ongoing support.

“Since a large number of awardees are educators at grade schools, high schools, nature centers, or community gardens, we create educational materials that teach people about the importance of bees and the vital role they play in our ecosystem,” Fernandez says. “These tools and updates will be shared throughout the bee season to help keep awardees on top of what may be happening in their bee house, and give them — and their bees — the tools they need for a successful season.”

Later in the spring, the conservancy will launch a Facebook group so the awardees can share updates, ask questions, and get to know each other. In addition, the hope is that the groups will discuss the plight of native bees in educational talks, classes, and on social media.

“The bee houses will not only support the local ecosystem and pollinate nearby crops, but also provide an opportunity to educate and engage thousands of students and community members about sustainability and the importance of bees,” Fernandez says.

Applications are being accepted online for native bee homes until April 30.

What You Can Do For Native Bees

Even if you don’t apply for or receive a native bee home, there are still things you can do to help protect bees, Fernandez says. Avoid using chemical pesticides on your lawn. Instead, consider natural alternatives like native species of ladybugs or praying mantises. Or better yet, grow a lawn for bees and replace your grass with clover if you can. Clover can produce a lot of nectar which pollinators feed on.

“Many times we’ve seen that small individual actions can add up to big results. Since one of the biggest threats to bees is the loss of habitat, we can all do our part by planting flowers in window boxes or create pollinator gardens in our backyards and on our front lawn,” he suggests.

“If we all do this, we have a real opportunity to create a stretch of habitat for pollinators to feed on, and for us to enjoy as we watch the diversity of wildlife that stops by for a sip of nectar.”

You can build your own bee hotel or house. It’s also a good idea to leave a patch of your garden or yard uncultivated for the majority of native bees, like bumblebees, that live in the ground. Don’t add heavy barriers like mulch, which would keep them from digging their homes. And leave leaf litter there in the fall to add shelter when it's cold.

Fernandez says, “It may look messy to us, but it’s home to them.”

View Article Sources
  1. Kopec, Kelsey, and Burd, Lori Ann. "Pollinators in Peril." Center for Biological Diversity, 2017.

  2. Makinson, James C., et al. "Bee-Friendly Community Gardens: Impact of Environmental Variables on the Richness and Abundance of Exotic and Native Bees." Urban Ecosystems, vol. 20, no. 2, 2016, pp. 463-476, doi:10.1007/s11252-016-0607-4

  3. "Spring 2021 Award: Native Bee Homes." The Bee Conservancy.