I am always happy to give a bee talk at a local block party. On Sunday we had the perfect day for it. The parents had arranged for the children to decorate mason bee boxes. Some were filled with blocks of drilled wood that will be stuffed with paper tubes and others will be filled with hollow bamboo reeds. These can be nailed to a house or a sheltered fence facing south east to get the morning sun. In the spring the folks will go to Wild Birds Unlimited to buy some cocoons to release mason bees for the houses.
One little boy sat down and declared, "I am not here to learn anything!" I guess he was adamant about the separation of school and holiday. "Okay, we won't learn anything," I said. "I'll just show you some pictures of bees." Turns out he was very well informed about bees and wasps, having watched one of the many excellent documentaries out there now for kids.
Two of the easiest things you can do for bees is letting your brassicas flower and putting out water for your bees, like I have done in the photos below. You can modify a bird bath by filling it with stones, or use shallow plates and dishes with stones and moss for the bees to drink from.
I went through all the types of bees and the roles of the bees in the hive, then we went on a bee safari, looking for bees and good bee plants. The best plants we found were buddleja, ( which comes with an invasive warning), blue lacy hydrangea, and lavender.
A honeybee obliged us by crawling onto a girl's hand and groom herself. "How do you know it's a girl?"they ask suspiciously. "It's the girls who come out and forage," I explain. "Drones have big eyes and they are longer, larger bees." You don't often see drones out and about far from the hive. They are usually inside the hive eating honey or inside another hive eating honey. (Brian Campbell told me that male bees have a free passport to enter other hives, which also makes them a vector for spreading mites and diseases.) Drones are in training for that big mating flight, which is their ultimate and final achievement. Once the summer comes to an end they are turfed out of the hive.
In the meantime, a couple complains about a wasp nest under their stairs. I try to convince them to hire Joe Wasp to come an humanely remove it without poison. You don't want wasp poison around adults, children, pets or bees.