A Small, Buzzy, Miner Bee Sort of Life

It’s the time of year when I struggle with returning phone calls, opening mail, and getting chores done inside.  Whenever springtime warmth rolls around, I am outside in the sun with a trowel, making adjustments to perennial gardens.

For the past six years I’ve lived in a house that has an alley on one side.  Over the years, this alley side has been sorely neglected by yours truly, though I’m trying to give it more attention by putting in a new foundation bed along the length of the house, reaching from north to south.  During the hottest months of the year the alley is extremely dry and dusty, so the current gardening challenges are to remove all weeds along the house foundation, to find location-appropriate perennials, and to prep the soil for incoming plants.

It was during the soil preparation step that I stumbled upon an exciting discovery – miner bees.

At first, when I began digging, a bunch of bees began to buzz around and I started to wonder if there was a bees nest in the tree across the alley from where I was working.  In all honesty, a panic moment set in, as bee stings are absolutely no fun.  After swatting a few in fear, I calmed down and realized that the bees were not aggressive.  They didn’t land on me, they didn’t dive bomb like hornets or wasps are prone to do, and they seemed to be soaking up sunshine by landing on the house foundation.

I watched for a while, continued pulling up weeds, and then realized that the bees were not only buzzing about – they were in the soil itself.  Upon disturbance from the trowel, the bees shook off whatever dirt coating they had and flew up into the air.  It was fascinating!

The first night of garden prep I researched different types of bees to try to figure out what type of bee had decided to colonize the entire west side of the house foundation.  A little reading and it was clear that the bees are from the genus Andrena and probably appreciate the warmth of the foundation and the dry alley.

Miner bees are increasing in importance as they serve as critical pollinators now that the honeybee populations are faltering, potentially as a result of massive agricultural pesticide applications.  While native honeybee populations fall, native miner bees are thought to be stepping up and filling a pollination role for fruit and flower production.

After considering all this information I did end up putting in the garden bed along the foundation while making sure to move the bees with the trowel to ensure that they weren’t harmed.  Miner bees also tend to prefer nesting in or colonizing areas with plenty of nectar-producing plants, so I’ve seeded a good portion of the new garden with bee- and butterfly-attracting perennials.  I hope the bees stay to enjoy the show!


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