The Most Important Bees You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Tim Bennett with one of his houses for solitary bees

When I was giving a presentation to the Bedford Conservation Commission on my Eagle Scout project, which involved building seven houses for solitary bees for the Community Garden off of Hartwell road, the first question was, “What are solitary bees?”

New England’s native pollinators, solitary bees play a vital role in the local ecosystem. Unlike their Eurasian cousin the honey bee, the solitary bee does not have queens, drones, or worker bees. Rather, each bee is capable of reproduction. For this reason, Solitary Bees do not live in hives, but they do often live in close proximity to one another, even across different species of bees.

Although they don’t produce honey, and therefore offer no economic benefit to those seeking to cultivate bees for that purpose, solitary bees are prodigious pollinators. Many species are also incapable of stinging, and those species that are able to are even more reluctant to do so than honey bees. This makes them ideal for areas where people, including young children, may be working such as home, or community, gardens.

Solitary bees make their home in small holes that they plug up with chewed up leaves or other materials during the winter. Each hole can have multiple chambers composed of the bee’s eggs followed by a wall of nesting material. The main difference between species is where they find or make these holes.

Some species make their nests in the ground, such as the miner bee, which makes holes similar to anthills. Others find holes in dead trees, while still others make their own holes in deadwood. Habitat loss is a large problem facing these bees since many dead trees are removed to pave the way for development.

My Eagle Scout project sought to provide a home for these bees by providing houses with wooden inserts with drilled holes in them. By doing this, I hoped to provide a benefit to both the bees and gardeners of Bedford, and raise awareness of this important species.

My project went through many stages, but I began by seeking permission from the Conservation Commission and the Town. After I obtained these permissions, I began the design phase.

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I first drafted a 3D view of my proposed design to check the dimensions. After this, I made a list of the materials that I would require for assembly and created a cut list to quantify how many houses I could create with a given amount of materials.

This helped me assemble a budget and allowed me to purchase the necessary materials while minimizing any waste. This was made possible by a very generous grant from the First Parish Bedford Social Responsibility Committee, which I supplemented by selling banana bread to some adults who had helped out throughout the project and enjoyed the baked goods I had provided on the project days.

Once I secured the materials, I constructed a prototype to make sure that the design was actually feasible. After this, the work could truly begin. I hosted nine scouts in my backyard to assemble the houses and treat them with teak oil. It was challenging to maintain social distancing, but the scouts complied wonderfully with that and the other safety measures I implemented to ensure that all scouts were safe from both workspace injury and infection.

After the houses were constructed, I spent a few nights in a well-ventilated workshop drilling the wooden inserts for the houses with tremendous support from Bob Doud, a wonderful friend of scouting and perennial volunteer.

With the help of [DPW staffers] Adrienne St. John, the town engineer, and Denny Freeman, the grounds manager at the garden, I was able to hang the houses in the Bedford Community Garden.

None of this would have been possible without the help of Adrienne, Denny,  Bob, my parents, Rob Dobson, the FPB Social Responsibility Committee, and all of the Scout volunteers (Parker, Noah, Daniel, Arnav, William, Rylan, Cole, Tyler, Josh, Mr. Munsie, and Mr. Randhahn), among many others who helped out in ways large and small.

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