Over the past few days I’ve learned quite a bit about the carpenter bees. One little factoid that I’ve left out is that how dependant some flowers are on carpenter bees and bumblebees. These two species are more likely to crawl deep into the flowers than honeybees and thus more pollen is caught in the Bee’s fur to be transferred to the next blossom. Certain flowers are designed to take advantage of carpenter bee’s feeding habits and are so adapted that if the carpenter bees are lost then these flowers are lost as well. Furthermore, some garden plants like eggplant and tomato benefit from the strong vibrations produced in the carpenter bee’s powerful thorax. The vibrations set up a sympathetic resonance that shakes lose more pollen than smaller bees. According to the Honeybee Conservancy the economic value of bee dependant crops in the U.S. is around 29 billion dollars. Native Bees like the carpenter bees are responsible for15% of the harvest.
And yet as valuable as they are when they begin boring holes into your home they become a huge problem. So for the third and final part of Sunshine And Roses I wanted to cover a few mitigation and control methods.
When I first noticed a spike in the carpenter bee population in my area it seemed to correlate with a decline in honeybees. I have not seen any studies on this so I am just guessing here. In researching for this article I learned that the size of a carpenter bee’s brood is proportional to the amount of food she’s able to forage. And even though an individual carpenter bee out performs an individual honeybee by large magnitudes there’s far more honeybees in a healthy hive. Remember that only 15% of overall crop production is done by native bees and carpenter bees are only a fraction of the %15. So I propose that if a person us so inclined that learning how to keep honeybees just might have a control effect on carpenter bees. This would be because they are capable of limiting the available forage and thus the carpenter bees have smaller broods.
Mason bees and leaf cutter bees are also highly competitive rivals for the carpenter bees and they’re pretty much care free. Make or buy a special habitat for these bees and place it areas where bee food grows. The wild varieties will show up and limit food access to the carpenter bees. Plus these types of bees don’t make new holes in wood but instead take over holes that are already there.
The true bumblebees live in underground tunnels. And they actually out perform the carpenter bee on a one on one basis. However, in order to attract bumblebees you need bare ground and they have to like that spot. There are tame bumblebee hives available but there’s a significant risk that they will transmit disease to the wild ones.
Finally there are the more traditional methods of control.
Chemical pesticides such as pyrethrin are used to kill a nest on contact and then the hole is plugged with a dowl rod.
A few sources say to use orange oil to make the wood unpleasant for the carpenter bees. An alternative is peppermint oil. In strong concentration the peppermint is said to overwhelmed the bees sense of smell and make them uncomfortable. However, I seen carpenter bees pollinating mints.
Simply painting wood surfaces with a good paint or stain makes it unsuitable for nesting by the carpenter bee. If it’s a surface that you want to keep natural then a clear coat is better than nothing.
There are traps you can make or buy that uses blocks of wood attached to a bottle. The idea is that the carpenter bee will explore holes drilled in the wood that leads to a clear bottle or jar and can’t find their way out again. These are hung near the home and because there’s already a hole that’s the right size the bees will try to save energy by taking over that hole. Carpenter bees only live for one season but the brood will return to same hole and expand the tunnel. Several years of this will destroy the structure eventually and it makes it vulnerable to fungus.
Regardless of the control methods that’s right for you I do ask you to remember that carpenter bees are part of nature and important to some wildflowers that support the other life in the forest. So leave them some space on the edge of the forest well away from your home. Simply drilling 1/2 inch holes in a stump or block of wood and placing it in the right place will both draw them away from the home and keep them out there working as pollenators.
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