Mason bee making a nest in a tunnel for her offspring. (Cheryl Trudell photo)

Mason bee making a nest in a tunnel for her offspring. (Cheryl Trudell photo)

Mary Lowther column: Building bee dwellings and resolutions for the new year

I make the same three resolutions every year

Before Gaius Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar the New Year started on April 1, that being the day the new Consuls were elected. Gaius Julius arbitrarily chose Jan. 1, possibly because it so closely followed the major Roman religious holiday of Saturnalia, or perhaps because he planned an end to Consular elections. Of course this faced resistance from Caesar’s defeated but still numerous enemies, who continued to celebrate in April despite official condemnation. These stubborn dissenters were mocked by the majority and called “April Fools,” but despite their temporary success on the Ides of March the change remained in place and January first was slowly accepted as New Year’s Day.

As an aside, the only successful resistance to the change has been the government bureaucracy, which has continued to use April 1 as their financial year end for the last 2,175 years. Caesar may have defeated the Gauls and Britons, but even he failed to conquer the tax collectors. Vos non pugnare urbe forum (you can’t fight city hall).

Nonetheless, Caesar had it easy. If New Year’s Day hadn’t already been invented he would have had to create it. Regardless of when we observe it, no other day compares with the first day of the New Year when, no matter how far we have fallen short, we can start afresh with a clean slate of new resolutions, as pristine as a new born baby. This, of course, does not impress those who measure our debts, which might explain why they still have not accepted Caesar’s edicts.

Perhaps if they had the official sanction of the revenue department more resolutions would be kept. That would be difficult, because each New Year would require further resolutions until we had achieved perfection and everyone would hate us. In this case insincerity is our best defence. Therefore, I make the same three resolutions every year: eat healthily, exercise regularly and be nicer to David.

With a garden, my first resolution is the easiest and the most enjoyable to keep. Even in the dead of winter I have food in the pantry, seeds at the ready and tools organized for the first hint of spring. My staff, feline and canine, go outside and destroy varmints before they even think about eating next year’s crop and I’ve noticed a feral cat slinking over to freelance that I may hire full time.

In the meantime, I am encouraging David to make some mason bee nests to hang in the woods next month. I’d like him to make three simple houses with no frills, the sort bees would appreciate: rustic, unpainted and looking like part of the forest, but I’m afraid he’ll want to produce miniature Taj Mahals, on the theory they will attract only the best bees. He really needs supervision.

In her book Pollination with Mason Bees, Dr. Margriet Dogterom suggests that tunnels be drilled into wooden blocks, keeping in mind that mite levels could be increased because the tunnels cannot be sterilized. I’m of the opinion that bee populations may then become dependent on human intervention, allowing weaker bees to procreate more weak bees, so I’m going to go with these kinds of houses and let natural selection sift out the evolutionary losers.

Dr. Dogteron says that 7.9 mm holes drilled six inches deep work well, with tunnels one inch apart. Because woodpeckers are attracted to the helpless bee pupae, one inch chicken wire should be crimped up and attached to the front of the nest so that it sits two to three inches away from the tunnels. I think a small roof to drain off rain might be a worthwhile addition, but will draw the line at minarets, parapets and knot gardens. Structural simplicity will come in handy when the time comes to gather the nests for transfer to my garden before the little darlings hatch next year and look for plants to pollinate.

Please contact with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.