Giving bumble bees a home

My Kentucky wanderers are situated next to the black raspberry brambles, and, while making sure the pole beans were, indeed, properly wandering their way up the teepee-like trellis I'd made for them, I was pleased to see a few bumble bees busying themselves with the raspberry blossoms. I'd like to think they were Yellow-banded Bumble Bees -- one of several bumble bees species with populations in swift decline -- but it can be awfully tricky identifying the large, fuzzy beings.

Bumble bees of nearly every stripe are in serious trouble these days; scientists have red-listed many of them because bumble bee habitat isn't what it used to be. What's more, it's widely thought that some commercially reared bumble bees used to pollinate hothouse tomatoes, among other things, have made their way out of the greenhouses and into the wild. Easily the most common of these is Bombus Impatiens, a non-native bee which, while not susceptible to certain pathogens itself, can unwittingly transmit disease to feral bumble bee colonies.

Now a contingent of organic gardeners may not single-handedly save every North American bumble bee species, but we can at least offer some of them a nice place to stay. That means planting many of the same types of plants that honey bees like and putting out bumble bee nest boxes. That's right. Bumble bee nest boxes.

They can be as simple as a large teapot buried underground with just the tip of its spout exposed. One can be made from an old six-pack cooler and a bit of plastic tubing. Even a large terra cotta pot will work -- just take it to an out-of-the-way spot, turn it upside-down, and voila. In time, bumble bees find their way through what used to be the pot's drainage hole. To give you a better idea, here are some intriguing bee nest box projects for Do-It-Yourselfers, and here's a charming little bungalow for sale (complete with an observation window no less.) Oh, and be prepared to spend some time doting on your guests. They prefer to make their nests out of soft cotton batting, but they'll settle for dryer lint in a pinch.

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Bombus impatiens is native to north america.

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