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What’s all the buzzzzz about?

June 5, 2013

Carpenter Bee Burrowing Into a Deck

Have you noticed the bomber bees? These are the black bees that seem to hover around when you are sitting on the deck. I used to laugh and say they were drones that were trying to listen in on my personal conversations.

Because it is springtime, it is mating time for the bees and you may have begun to notice them around your house.

These black bees are carpenter bees. Some refer to them as wood bees because they love to bore holes in the wood around your home to raise their families. The bee looks very similar to a bumblebee but the carpenter bee has a black abdomen where the bumblebee has a black and yellow abdomen. They help pollinate flowers and though they will buzz real close to you, they rarely sting. The male carpenter bee doesn’t have a stinger. The female has a stinger but she stays in the nest to protect it and will sting only if threatened.

If you have wood bees, you will know because you will notice small holes in the wood around your home (deck, eaves, and walls). The holes are about this size of your finger and you will see what looks like sawdust around the holes. But, I hate to tell you – it’s not sawdust, it is feces (yup, poop that looks like sawdust – I guess if you eat wood you eliminate wood).

The bees build their nests in the wood by boring holes (about 1” wide and as long as 6’ or more). The bees tend to return to where they, themselves hatched out. As a result damage can build up over time from them drilling holes and excavating tunnels. The bees deposit an egg at the end of each tunnel and leave a ball of pollen for the larva to feed upon before sealing up the tunnel. Larvae tend to be noisy so they then attract woodpeckers that can cause further damage to the house.

The good part is that they work very slowly. If you deal with them quickly you can minimize the damage to your home. Below are some ideas on how to keep the bees away and then deter them from returning next spring.

1.    Pour almond oil in and around the carpenter bee holes. Carpenter bees do not like this oil and it will drive them away and discourage them from returning to their nests. Look into the holes with a flashlight to make sure the bees and larvae are evacuated. This could take up to three months. (Make sure you fill the empty holes with a steel wool pad and seal opening with wood filler or wire mesh. Leave in place until you can replace the damaged sections of wood).

2.    Apply paint or varnish to the wood around your home. Carpenter bees prefer untreated wood, and this will deter them from building a nest. Be certain to coat all sections including the underside of trim.

3.    Apply a botanical pesticide if efforts to drive the carpenter bees away fail. This may occur with large infestations. Common pesticides include neem oil and pyrethrins that come in oils, sprays or dusts.

4.    Discourage them from returning to old tunnels for over wintering or laying new eggs, by plugging the holes with wire or aluminum balls covered with a caulked fill. Put several coats of an oil-based stain or paint over the area to deter the bees from returning. (Catch the hole early – it takes the female six days to bore an inch and you can possibly vacuum out the female. Then caulk over the hole before a nest is built. You can caulk her into the nest, but she will die in there rather than boring her way back out). Please don’t kill her – we need these bees to pollinate our flowers and crops.

5.    Paint using oil-based paints. Carpenter bees avoid oil-based paints as well as wood covered in bark. Most carpenter bees will avoid hard wood as well, so choose oak over pine when building.

6.    Use vinyl or fiber cement trim or siding on the outside of your home.

7.    Or, my favorite – using your DIY skills, make a home for them and take them somewhere else to live (NOT your neighbor’s house). They will come back to it each year and leave your house alone. Give your bees a structure of soft wood with a straight grain for easiest access. Leave it untreated. You could even go so far as to drill a small half-inch hole in it. This will encourage your carpenter bees to nest here. Carpenter bees will stay with a nest, generation after generation, rather than seeking out and building a new nest. According to Ohio State University entomology department, the female bores in for 2 inches, turns and bores another 6 inches, so make sure your structure allows this much space.

Hope you have a buzz free spring and summer with the tips I have given you.

To being buzz free,

Jo Ellen Soesbee, the ToolBox TomGirl


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