About 15 years ago, MaryJo and Charlie Skemp started noticing unusual activity in a hosta planting that runs along the back side of their home. Beginning each spring, the garden would become an energy-filled flurry of what appeared to be bees, or perhaps wasps or hornets, hurriedly flying in and out of anthill-like holes in the ground.
“We had no idea what these insects were,” recalls MaryJo, who grew up in West St. Paul and has been an elementary school teacher in School District 197 for over 30 years.
While the insects were never bothersome, Charlie and MaryJo nonetheless had an exterminator make a visit to their home after their daughter Laura was stung one year. They were told ground-nesting bees had made their nests in the perfect conditions—exposed bare soil—that existed on the side of the house.
The exterminator recommended they leave the bees alone. Because the bees were docile, and stopped being active once spring ended each year, the Skemps decided not to explore other options to eliminate the bees and to instead coexist with them. The friendly partnership with these “buzzing” neighbors continues to this day. “The bees never stung anyone ever again,” states MaryJo. “They don’t bother the dog. We’ve gotten used to them.” Charlie, who has been a teacher at Henry Sibley High School for 17 of his nearly 30 years in education, doesn’t mind the bees either. “My family owns an apple orchard near LaCrosse, and bees are a strategic part of that operation,” he explains. “So I understand their importance as pollinators.”
Because habitat loss and other environmental stressors threaten many species of bees in Minnesota, as well as around the world, homeowners interested in inviting ground-nesting bees into low traffic areas of their yards are encouraged to keep some areas of exposed bare soil in the yard or garden and offer ground-nesting bees some of their favorite nectar and pollen flowers.
The insects flying near the Skemps’ home might have turned out to be yellow jackets, which often make their nests in the cavity of an old mouse hole, as well as insects other than bees. However, the signature anthill-like mounds with larger than ant-sized holes, combined with the bees appearing in the same place each year, and their gentle nature, provided clues that they were native mining bees and not wasps.