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Earth Notes: Bee Houses

When you hear the word "bee," you're likely to think of the hard-working insects that produce the honey we use. But in North American, a wild diversity of native bees - more than 4,000 kinds – swamps that of honeybees, which were imported from the Old World.

Like their honeybee cousins, those natives perform a vital ecological service as they pollinate plants. That's why increasing numbers of people have begun thinking about how to provide better habitat for them.

Good habitat begins with blooms that provide nectar and pollen. If you have a garden, try planting a variety of flowers that bloom at different times throughout the growing season. Native flowers are great, but Mediterranean imports are also popular with many kinds of bees.

Or make houses for solitary bees, which like to shelter in small holes. You can simply drill holes, 4 inches deep and from 3/16ths to 5/16ths of an inch in diameter, in a piece of wood. Or tie together a bundle of bamboo rods.

Then hang or fasten the result, with the holes in a horizontal position, under a sheltering eave protected from rain, wind and direct sun. Have fun – in Europe, houses for insects have become creative garden sculptures of drilled wood, bamboo and bricks.

You can also help bees by providing a bit of mud in the garden - perhaps with a spot of bare earth and a very slowly dripping faucet. Then sit back and enjoy the contented hum of a well-balanced garden.

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