Bumble Bees: A Time to Kill, and a Time to Build Nest Boxes

I’ve had a pest problem around my house, and it’s been the darnedest thing to try to get rid of. Every year, bumble bees have invaded my subarea. One year there was even three different colonies. I know this because my subarea is divided into three different areas (it’s a long story… I talk about it some here.) Three colonies!

Sometimes you wonder if the pests are targeting you, like maybe they have a top-ten most wanted list.

And, to make it worse, a few would make their way inside, and buzz around the back of the house, taunting my cats. One even made its way upstairs, to where our bedroom is at.

I tried dusting them, but it didn’t work. I even pulled out my old tub of Ficam D (oh yeah!), and shot them with that, but it didn’t even work. (If you aren’t familiar with Ficam D, it’s an insecticidal dust that is no longer sold, and it was to stinging insects what Safrotin was to cockroaches, one of those products that those of us who have been around for a while use as a yardstick for comparing new products, you know, “this new dust, it works ok, but nothin’ is quite like good ol’ Ficam D.”)

Finally, one year I laid concrete into one of the openings and blocked over another. That was the end of my bumble bee problem.

But, then I got to thinking. Bumble bees are beneficial insects, important native pollinators. What impact was I having on the bumble bee population in my neighborhood by denying them a place to live?

In pest management, we’re not all about killing the bugs, but rather, about bringing them back into the proper balance.

I decided that I would make some bumble bee houses.

They would work fine behind my garage. That way, if a prowler was wandering around back there, he would kick one accidentally, and end up with a face full of bumble bees. It would also help the local bumble bee populations in light of my keeping them from living in my home.

Doing research on the internet, I found that people had success using coffee cans with some holes punched in them and some grass inside for nesting material. I made a few different types. One was a coffee can, meant to be laid on its side, with some drain holes in the side that would be facing down, and a hole in the plastic lid for the bees to use. The other was more sophisticated: one coffee can for the nest, and another for a cover, both with holes to let the bumble bees get in.

A makeshift bumble bee nest box.

A makeshift bumble bee nest box.

Another makeshift bumble bee nest box.

Another makeshift bumble bee nest box.

Then, I put them out, both with weights to keep them from blowing away. We live near to Lake Michigan, and the wind can be brutal.

The first bumble bee nest box in place, with bricks to hold it down.

The first bumble bee nest box in place, with bricks to hold it down.

Another bee nest box.

This one is fancy. We have a block underneath to keep moisture from wicking up into it and to keep it from sinking, and bricks on top to hold the whole thing down.

And, here you can see all of them, lined up behind my garage, mixed in with the black eyed susans I recently planted! Let’s hope the bumble bee queens find these and build some nests.

All of my bumble bee nest boxes.

All of my bumble bee nest boxes.

I should probably talk more about treating for bumble bees, since that’s what you came here for.

Although most consumers think of bumble bees as harmless, we in the pest management industry know better. They will most certainly sting if you threaten their nest.

For control, a dust is often the best choice. Injected into the entry point for their nest, the bees can easily pick it up on their bodies, and then, through social grooming, feeding one another, and so forth, spread it throughout the colony.

Pyrethroids (deltamethrin, cyfluthrin) tend not to be as effective as the other classes. I’ve been using dusts such as Alpine D with good results. (I solved my personal bumble bee problem before Alpine D came out, so I don’t know how it would have fared as compared to my Ficam D.)

And now, the requisite summary: Bumble bees have an important role in nature and should be left alone, unless they are living inside your house or someplace that puts someone at risk of being stung.

Best of luck this season on your stinging insect jobs. May you do all the stinging and take none in return!

2 thoughts on “Bumble Bees: A Time to Kill, and a Time to Build Nest Boxes

  1. sam droege


    Am interested in these types of bumble bee nests…

    Were yours successful?



  2. Ted Snyder Post author

    Hi Sam, unfortunately, my bumble bee boxes were not successful, although I still have them out there for this coming spring. From what I’ve read, at least with this design, getting them to nest can be real hit or miss. I believe that I recall that people who were more successful than me used more boxes, as well. Good luck with your bumble bee keeping! Ted

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