Bee hatch

Native bee houses provide a safe place for super pollinators

SAN DIEGO — Over the past few decades, researchers have found that habitat loss and pesticide use have led to a steep decline in solitary native bees.

Candace Vanderhoff saw what was happening to native bee populations around the world and started SoloBee Native Bee Shelter. She is a licensed architect who now builds specialized houses for native bees, mimicking the wooden tunnels in nature that bees use as a safe place to nest. Seeing them use his homes is one of his greatest joys.

“It’s really soothing, you know? Because our lives are so stressful and we want to get into nature,” Vanderhoff said.

Vanderhoff said a solitary female will lay her eggs in the tunnel; after a year, the new bees hatch.

“I’ve had these bees for seven generations now,” she said, pointing to the bees that flew around her garden. “So they come back as long as I provide accommodation for them.”

Hilary Kearney is a bee specialist and owner of Girl next door darling. She frequently participates in bee rescues to move hives to undesirable locations instead of exterminating the entire hive.

“It feels good to save an animal, instead of exterminating it,” Kearney said. “I try to get [the bees] to choose this [bee box] instead of [that tree]. You have to kind of teach them where they live now.

Kearney, who was in the process of moving a hive of honey bees from someone’s front yard, said that unlike honey bees, solitary native bees live on their own, have no hive to defend and rarely sting.

There are 20,000 different species of bees on earth, and 90% live alone as solitary bees. Native solitary bees are super pollinators, pollinating 1 in 3 bites of food.

“Bees are what we call generalists. They pollinate a lot of different things quite well,” Kearney said. “But there are other bees that specialize in pollinating certain types of plants; like honey bees, for example, cannot pollinate tomatoes.

Kearney said more than anything else, these “lonely bees” need a safe place to nest and thrive. She thinks the SoloBee shelters give people insight into their life cycle and will help them appreciate species that are often overlooked.

“These solitary species, it’s just a mother bee raising her babies in her little nest and that’s it, you probably won’t even see her,” Kearney said. “I really hope that people start to realize that there is more to honey bees and that they really start to appreciate the contributions that these native species make to us as well.”

Kearney also teaches online and in-person classes on backyard beekeeping and guides bee hive tours to get up close with the bees.

Vanderhoff says that so far she has built 3,174 SoloBee shelters. All are made with recycled and reclaimed wood, as well as wood from donated scraps Taylor Guitars.

Her hope is to leave a legacy of love protecting the gentle bees.

“When I die I want to say I did something good for the planet and not just take, take, take,” she said. “So I think that’s one of the things that drives me.”

You can order a SoloBee Native bee shelter for your home no matter where in the world you live and Vanderhoff will add your home to it. bee map which shows where thousands of its bee houses are located all over the world.