Catering for our Bees

Catering for our Bees

The only new ‘hotels’ we’d love to build

The prolonged period of reduced rainfall which struck Malta in 2016 had an adverse effect not only on agriculture and produce harvest that year, but also on our most reliant pollinators, the bees. Honey bee keepers throughout the Islands had hives dying off, with some loosing as many as half of their colonies.

The beloved honey bee (Apis mellifera) has had a turbulent few decades, due to the uptake of unsustainable agricultural practices and the excessive use of agrochemicals. Colonies have been weakened and made more susceptible to diseases and parasites, and when a drought strikes, the synergistic effects are leading to its demise. What most of us don’t realise is that the honey bees are not the only bees at risk.

There are over 20,000 known species of bee globally, with the honey bee only being one of them. Some bees are social creatures and other wild bees are solitary and live their life nesting on their own, like the Maltese mason bee and leaf-cutter bee. The beauty of having such a diversity of bees is that their unique morphology and lifecycle allows them to be more adapt at specific roles in an ecosystem. This makes the Maltese wild flora, horticultural and agricultural plants, rely on the complex intricacies of a collective of different pollinators.

As Martin Winston puts it in his book Bee Time, since our environmental health and food supply depends on bees, we have entered an agreement with these creatures that in exchange for their pollination service, keeping ecosystems stable, feeding our planet, and simply for their intrinsic beauty, us humans in return must maintain an environment where they can thrive. So the question posed is, how can we assist bees in living healthy lives? Well, there are a number of practices that we can adopted, such as supporting produce which has been grown pesticide-free, growing a herb-garden or opening a luxury Bee n’ Bee.

For those not accustomed to the pollinator hospitality industry, a Bee n’ Bee or Bee hotel is a space where bees can find much needed shelter that may not be otherwise available due to little safe nesting space left as a result of urban sprawl. These Bee n’ Bees can be made very easily and require minimal material – a bit of design and DIY fun can provide a home to bees, especially in times of heavy downpour in Malta, where bee nests need to be sheltered from the rain.

The bees will nest in small tubular holes. A block of wood which has been bored into with a driller, or cane/bamboo straws bundled together work as a perfect space for solitary bees. If you are working with wood, you can take one single block of wood and make numerous holes of a diameter between 2 mm and 10 mm to allow bees of various sizes to use the space.

The Bee n’ Bee can be as small and large as you want it; you may prefer a more small scale, home-run type Bee hotel which can have about 15 holes as accommodation. The holes need to be closed off from one end, so there is only one entrance to a nest. It is also important to ensure that the material is not treated with any chemicals which may be toxic to the bees. To protect the rooms from rain the Bee n’ Bee will need a good roof installed which can be in the form of another piece of wood attached to the top of the hotel block.

Once the Bee n’ Bee is assembled a location can be found for it, ideally half a meter from the ground, but any nice spot where bees can be observed but not disturbed will be a good site for the hotel. Such a Bee n’ Bee will compliment an existing garden space, or a bee-friendly area can be created adjacent to the Bee n’ Bee to provide food for our guests. It is easy to find plants to grow that bees love, but the following are safe bets for any bee-friendly garden: herbs (sage, lavender, rosemary, thyme), trees (eucalyptus, carob, apples) and garden flowers (daisy, sunflowers, poppies, borage). Once the place is set up, all that is left is to wait until your acclaimed guests arrive, and observe how they slowly move into their new home.

Friends of the Earth Malta wants to create havens for bees were we can observe and Bee with Nature. We will be hosting more BeeAware workshops teamed around care for bees and establishing of apiaries, as well as a camp focusing on the creation of bee-friendly areas, so stay on the lookout for updates in the near future.