Have you ever gone out to your vegetable garden early in the morning, and spotted little-striped bees in your squash flowers? It’s too cold for honey bees to be flying around yet, and they don’t look like a bumble bee, so who could they be? Those little ones are our friends, the squash bee!
What are Squash Bees?
Squash bees are one of our many native pollinators. There are 13 species of the squash bee family, or Peponapis, found in North and South America.
At first glance, they look very similar to the honey bee, because of similar coloring and stripes on the body. But if you look closer, you’ll see that they have a bit wider of a body, and longer antenna. You can find them in the garden from June through September.
Squash bees are a valuable contributor to the vegetable garden, as they are out foraging, and therefore pollinating, much earlier than the honey bees. With plants like squash, who’s blossoms close up in the heat, this can often mean the honeybees haven’t gotten there in time to pollinate. Squash bees will sometimes even flying while it’s still dark out, making the rounds from flower to flower. When the flowers close in late morning, the females return to their nests, and the males sleep, tucked in cozy inside the closed flowers.
How to Attract Squash Bees to the Garden
To attract squash bees to your yard, the very first thing you need to do is plant the Cucurbitaceae family. Summer squash, winter squash, and gourds are all visited for pollen. Other plants in the family, such as cucumbers and melons, are visited for nectar. They will also visit morning glories for nectar.
Squash bees, like most of our native bees, are solitary bees. They nest solo, usually in bare ground. To encourage females to nest in your garden, leave a spot of ground unplanted and undisturbed. Soft soil that is easy for them to excavate in is best. If you are short on garden space, or don’t want a messy empty corner, consider pathways made from pavers with soil between them. And for all wildlife, don’t use herbicides or pesticides.
I had bountiful amounts of squash bees in my Santa Rosa garden, which directly increased my plentiful squash harvests, but sadly have not seen any squash bees here in my new place. I hope that with time of amending my soil and regular crops of squash and melons, I’ll attract these little ones to my garden.
If you want to know more about native bees and are in California, check out California Bees & Blooms by Frankie, Thorp, Coville and Ertter. This is an excellent guide and resource to learn more about our native bees.
Have you seen any squash bees in your flowers yet this year? Leave me a comment and let me know!