I discovered Green & Blue Bee Bricks and Green & Blue Bee Blocks earlier this year. I was so excited to find these specially designed, stand alone bee houses, that can be placed in your garden, or at your allotment, or used in construction as you would a regular brick, to provide homes for solitary bees in walls, houses, offices, sheds, conservatories, and greenhouses!
Green & Blue is a British company, that’s based in Perranporth, in Cornwall. Green & Blue’s Bee Bricks and Bee Blocks have been designed in Cornwall and are created in small batches in the UK. Green & Blue Bee Bricks and Green & Blue Bee Blocks have been designed to provide homes for red mason bees, leaf cutter bees, and other species of solitary bee.
These specially developed bee homes have been awarded an impressive array of awards, they were the Soil Association’s Innovation and Award winner in 2014, Grand Designs Green Hero in 2015. In 2015, Green & Blue Bee Bricks and Bee Blocks were shortlisted for Design Week’s Awards, Blueprint Awards, they were highly commended at the FX Design Awards, and were selected as the Cornwall Sustainability Awards winner.
Hooray for Cornwall Council, who have recommended that 50% of all new builds should have a Bee Brick! With this in mind, Green & Blue Bee Bricks would make an ideal gift for anyone planning on building their own home, planning to build an extension, or building a wall, shed, or greenhouse.
Red mason bees
Red mason bees, also known by their scientific name of Osmia bicornis, make nests in a variety of locations: they may nest inside holes in walls, or inside channels that were created in logs or fallen trees by wood-boring beetles, or they may even burrow into the ground to nest in the soil, or on the sides of cliffs. Red mason bees often nest in bee bricks, or inside bamboo canes, or other hollow plant stems, cavities in wood, in cardboard tubes, and bee and bug hotels.
After mating in spring, the female red mason bee finds a suitable nest site. She might choose a bee brick, a crack in a wall, or the hollow centre of a bamboo cane, a bramble, or another hollow plant stem, or another, similar nest site, which will provide her with a narrow recess, which she has unrestricted access to.
Within a cavity at her chosen site, the female bee will create a cell, which she lines with mud that she will excavate herself from a nearby riverbank or an area of damp muddy soil in the locality. The female red mason bee gathers the mud, using her forelegs to shape and form the wet soil into a more easily carried pellet shape, which she transports to the nest in her specially adapted mandible.
The female red mason bee will set out sufficient pollen, which she mixes with a small amount of nectar, and then leaves inside the cell as a food source for each bee larvae. The female bee will then lay a single egg onto the pollen inside every cell she creates. She then covers each cell with a layer or dividing wall of mud, which protects the developing bee inside and separates one chamber from the next, until the cavity is full of bee cells.
The female red mason bee is able to determine the sex of each of the eggs she lays. She will ensure that the female bee eggs are laid first, right at the back of the cavity. As the female red mason bee builds the cells for her young, one in front of the other, she covers each cell with a layer of mud to separate each of the cells. Eventually the female bee reaches the outer cells, and the outermost entrances of the nest cavities, she then changes tact, here inside these outer cells, the female red mason bee will switch to laying eggs of male bees.
Inside the mud lined cell, the red mason bee larvae eats the pollen that was left by its mother, and then spins a cocoon around themselves. The cocoon provides the bee larvae with a thermal layer of extra protection against the winter cold, and enables the larvae to make the transformation from larvae to bee safely inside their cocoon, within their cell. They spend winter fully formed as bees, within the protection of their cocoons, before emerging as adults in March, when the life cycle begins again.
In March, the male bees hatch first. The male bees build up their energy, feeding on the pollen and nectar of nearby flowers. The male bees remain close by, so they can wait at the nest entrances and within the locality of the nest site, to ensure they’re ready as soon as the female bees emerge. The male bees look for the first opportunity to mate with the females. The times of the bee’s emergence vary, the males can wait for around two weeks for the females to exit their cells, or they may emerge together.
Red mason bees, and the other species of bee that would find the Green & Blue Bee Bricks and Bee Blocks to be a suitable nest site, are usually referred to as solitary bees. These bees create their nests as individuals, with the female bee selecting the site, creating the cells, and collecting the mud and pollen for the young bees alone. Yet it is true that these bees will usually choose adjoining or adjacent nest sites to other red mason bees, or species of solitary bee, they will often nest close together in neighbouring bricks, bamboo or plant stems.
Red mason bees can be found in England, parts of Ireland, Wales and lowland Scotland. Although they are rarely found North of central Scotland, red mason bees can be found in Scandinavia and across Europe. The red mason bee is an excellent, efficient, and effective pollinator for a broad range of plants, feeding on the nectar and pollen of raspberries, apples, pears, plums, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, and other fruit and vegetable flowers that bloom from March to July. This solitary bee has the potential to flourish in the countryside and in urban areas.
Solitary bees are said to be safe for children and pets, If you’re worried about children and bees, you might be reassured to hear that only the female red mason bee has a stinger. The female bee would only use her stinger in an extreme situation, where she was in danger. I’ve never been stung by a red mason bee or any other solitary bee, but I have been told that the red mason bee’s sting is far less painful than the sting that is given by honey bees, bumble bees, or wasps. As these species of bee do not create honey, they have less reason to be attacked and have nothing to defend, so they do not require a stinger.
I discovered Green & Blue Bee Bricks and Green & Blue Bee Blocks too late in the year for the bees to be able to use my Brick and Block, as all of these species of bee would have all of found nest sites and laid their eggs by the time I popped my brick and block outside. I hope that in 2018, red mason bees, leaf cutter bees, or indeed any other species of solitary bee will find these specially designed bee habitats and create their nests inside the Green & Blue Bee Brick and Bee Block in my garden.
If you’re lucky enough to receive a Green & Blue Bee Brick, or a Green & Blue Bee Block for Christmas, then I would recommend that you find a suitable place to pop your Bee Brick or Bee Block and place it in situ over the Christmas break. Red mason bees, and other species of solitary bee will be active from March onwards, so by having your bricks and/or blocks at the ready, you’ll be maximising your chances of the next generation of these interesting insects developing and overwintering in your garden.
Choosing a site for your Bee Bricks and Bee Blocks
Site your Green & Blue Bee Bricks and Bee Blocks or other homemade bee house from 1m (3.3 ft) to 2m (6.6 ft) off the ground. Place them in a southerly direction along a wall or fence, in an open location, ensure that nothing covers or obscures your Bee Bricks or Blocks.
To visit Green & Blue’s website and discover more about their Bee Bricks and other products, please click here. To visit Green & Blue’s website and discover more about their Small Bee Blocks and other products, please click here.
What else can you do to help bees?
If you wish to help bees, you can avoid using any insecticides and pesticides, grow fruit, vegetables, trees and flowers with accessible pollen and nectar, create nest sites for bees, leave areas of mud, and garden naturally, with nature in mind. Protect wild spaces, plants, and natural habitats.
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