Dwelling Series

Dwelling: Shenandoah Valley  2018-2019

A nest site for native solitary bees and wasps (permanent)

Sarah Peebles.  The State Arboretum of Virginia – Blandy Experimental Farm. Boyce, VA, USA

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Dwelling: Shenandoah Valley is situated at the junction of four different land-use areas: a community garden, an un-managed field, managed collections of woody shrubs and trees, and a managed restored field and marsh with native plants. The native bees and wasps nesting and foraging here reflect the complexity and importance of pollination ecology to our land-use strategies and our evolving relationship with and influences on the land.

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The earthwork with sensory bee nesting cabinet accommodates solitary native miner bees (a/k/a excavator “chimney bees” Anthophora abruta and others), various cavity nesting bees and wasps, and the Eastern carpenter bee (the ubiquitous Virginia semi-social wood excavator, beginning their nest-building in the roof!). Detailed signs & 22-pg photo overview below.

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Integrated media, earthwork. Materials: clay-rich earth, chopped straw, aggregate (“cob”); clay plasters, field & quarried stone, cedar cabinet, pyrography with milk paint, nest plank for solitary bees & wasps (routed maple, plexiglass), custom amplifier (accelerometer, electronics), headphones, loupe, solar panel; pressure-treated wood, metal, polycarbonate panels; styrofoam & mud blocks mining bee nests, oak with mud wash (temporary).

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Select images above and below to read overview and artist statement.

Artist Statement

An annotated set of 29 photos are on facebook here.

Assisted by Gabe Franklin, artisan plastering. Mary-Ann Alberga, cabinet illustrations, Jennifer Rong, cabinetry, Rob Cruickshank, electronics (sensory bee nest cabinet). David Waters & Brian Redmond, cob wall and roof construction. MCC ≡ 1200 Architectural Engineers, roof design. Zachary Kahn, Blandy Experimental Farm & volunteer builders.

Dwelling interiour wide 06-15-2019dwelling blandy 11002CropSupported by the University of Virginia Bicentennial with funding provided by the Alumni Board of Trustees and Sarah Peebles.  Photos by Sarah Peebles & Ben Sullivan.

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Dwelling: Paint Branch Creek  2015-2016

A nest site for wild, solitary bees and wasps (permanent)   

Sarah Peebles & Lisa Kudar.  The University of Maryland Arboretum Outreach Center. College Park, MD, USA

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Sarah Peebles, habitat wall co-concept/design & Sensory Bee Cabinet; Lisa Kuder, wall co-concept/design, UMD lead, production, science advisor (Dennis vanEngelsdorp bee lab); Henry Raduazo, lead volunteer wall build & design consultant.

Updates posted on Flickr here.  Location map  (UMD, College Park, Maryland USA).  Below:  Video: Mining Bee action, 2019 (Lisa Kuder)

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Dwelling: Paint Branch Creek is a nest site for solitary native bees which integrates an earthwork of clay-rich soil mixed with sand and straw (known widely as cob), a sensory observation cabinet and a green roof with flowering plants. The site creates habitat for two groups of wild, solitary bees and solitary wasps: miner bees, which excavate their own tunnels from vertical earthen surfaces such as cliffs and river banks (genus Anthophora); and, cavity nesting bees and wasps seeking pithy stems such as raspberry bramble, vacated beetle bores in wood and other pre-formed structures.

Mining bees nests in the wall increase from 2018-2019 (Lisa Kuder, photos).  Below:  some would call it a bee hotel. Sarah Peebles calls it a sensory bee nest cabinet. It provides viewing in tandem with listening for an enhanced, immersive experience via an embedded vibrational sensor which conveys micro sound of inhabitants’ activities within the nest plank. When using a magnifying lens and headphones in tandem, our perception of the micro worlds within the nest plank is enhanced.

Photographer Ben Sullivan’s seemless macro portraits of the entire nest plank, below, convey the visual experience. The maple plank is double-sided and routed in mirror image. Zoom in to view bee larva and their parasites, below. Or, view the high resolution image (18 mg) here.

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Macro photo by Ben Sullivan, 2016 (Three photos stitched together)

Dwelling  was created as a long-term science outreach project with a team of student assistants and volunteers from the university and DC-area community.

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Photos: Rob Cruickshank

2015: We inserted into the wall several groups of tunnels of various diameters and lengths using chopsticks and similar tools. We limited how many tunnels we created and spaced them apart to keep natural pests from accruing in large numbers, since large aggregations of parasites and fungi can impact the health of wild bee/wasp populations over time.

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We were  inspired by the strata of earth which often line river banks and cliff faces preferred by miner bees: the wall’s multiple layers of colourful clay sources and varied cob mixes are structurally distinct (surfaces have not been plastered). Each layer is made of different ratios of sand, earth and straw to test the likes and dislikes of miner bees, especially the region’s native Anthophora abrupta, which are distinct from the imported species A. plumipes (introduced from Japan for agricultural use in the ’80’s), which have become much more common in Maryland than native miner bees, for unknown reasons. The wall’s 2-foot thickness also appeals to abrupta’s suspected preference for thicker cob.

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Using “natural building” techniques, which emphasize the use of local and benign (low processed) materials and technologies, Dwelling demonstrates a sustainable approach to landscape architecture  while reflecting an ancient and still vital method of building used around the world.

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The sensory bee cabinet is embedded into the wall. Its illustrations of miner bee biology and some local native flowers these bees visit help orient visitors to this group of bees which prefer to make their own tunnels in cliff faces –  and who we anticipate will “discover” this site and creates nests in the wall. (Pyrography and milk paint illustrations by artist Mary-Ann Alberga.)

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Photo: Rob Cruickshank
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Colby investigates with a lens and headphones. Photo: Lisa Kuder

The cabinet houses a plank of wood, grooved on both sides with tunnels and covered with plexiglass, which passively accrues cavity nesting solitaries such as leaf cutter and resin-using bees from the genus Megachile.  An embedded vibrational sensor connects to a solar-powered amplifier and transmits sounds made by the cabinet’s inhabitants while they create nests.

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Life-cycle illustration by Mary-Anne alberga (cabinet door).
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A resin bee from the genus Megachile (meaning large jaws) begins her lining a new nest with resin pieces she’s gathered from nearby sources. Photo: Rob Cruickshank

To get a feel for these bees in motion up close, see our macro videos with accompanying poems at Odes to Solitary Bees (Peebles/Humphrey 2010) – watch with headphones for the full effect!

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Grass-using wasps and resin-using bees live side by side, condo style (genus Isodontia and Megachile). Photo: Lisa Kuder.

Local photographer Ben Sullivan has been documenting the bee cabinet’s nesting inhabitants with seemless macro portraits of  the entire nest plank faces: posted on Flickr here.

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Amplified sound paired with magnified viewing creates an emergent quality of perception.

The “Audio Bee Cabinet” presents the nuances of nesting activities; pairing magnified views in tandem with amplified sound, it facilitates an enhanced perception of its tiny inhabitants: solitary bees and wasps, and other nest biota in action, up close.

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“Torymidae parasitic wasp”& “Trypoxylon mud dauber wasp mud cells” on the cabinet door with audio interface.

Above: Inside surfaces of the cabinet show solitary wasps, bees and tiny parisitoid wasps also likely to nest here. Natural pests and other “enemies” of solitaries are an integral part of ecosystems.

In the short video below, by Alexandra Simon (for The Diamondback), Lisa Kuder explains about Dwelling and the wild bees it caters to:

Lisa Kuder’s blog about Dwelling explains the biology and the  building process. Amazing tunnel nest photos and more are also posted here: Dwelling (UMD’s Botanical Garden page).   

Dwelling is complemented by a native plant garden serving a bee identification research project with master gardeners by Olivia Bernauer, a Masters Entomology student (Dennis vanEngelsdorp lab) begun in 2016; it’s also included in the UMD courses BSCI-126 Pollinators in Crisis and BSCI-121 Bee Keeping.

In 2016 we reluctantly plastered the exteriour of the wall (using clay-based plaster),and in 2017 we created an experimental erosion ‘green roof’ on the wall.  Dwelling’s initial stone topping faired poorly as erosion control; the green roof controls water damage while providing forage for bees, wasps and other invertebrates.  More at Flickr here.

Synopsis & Detailed Description: Dwelling synopsis (PDF).  Published articles include  Pollinator habitat wall attracts wild bees and curious students (Bee World Volume 92, Issue 3, 2015; by Lisa Kuder); Back-to-School With Native Bees (Beacon, Aug 21, 2015; by Alison Gillespie).

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View full size 2016 poster below.

Dwelling UMD Sign-Poster, 2016, full size (pdf).

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Audio Bee Cabinet assisted by Mary-Ann Alberga (pyrographic illustrations), Jennifer Rong (cabinetry) and Rob Cruickshank (electronics). See the sign at the top of this page for project funders and more credits.

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Lisa Kuder teaches “Pollinators in Crisis” BSCI-126 Pollinators in Crisis.
Photo: Rob Cruickshank