This is a great time to come to Blandy to admire the work of artist Sarah Peebles, as the digger bees that inhabit the cob wall have emerged in a frenzy. The activity lasts about 4 weeks, concluding as this year's adults die of their exertions and next year's bees eat the pollen and nectar their mother provided and start the journey to adulthood that won't end until next spring. The installation, located next to the Community Garden, is called
Dwelling: Shenandoah Valley by Sarah Peebles, 2019. A Nest Site for Native Solitary Bees and Wasps
and provides a close up look at the lives of solitary bees and wasps. There are two nesting areas, a cabinet in which cavity-nesting insects can be seen bringing food back to their offspring, and the cob wall, in which hundreds of digger bees (Anthophora abrupta) excavate individual tunnels. Activity in the cabinet hasn't started yet this year but the wall is at peak activity. Check the photos and video below to learn about the digger bee lifestyle.
Long view of Dwelling from the loop road. The cabinet is to the left and the active part of the wall is on the far right.
A single female digger bee looks for a place to start digging her nest in the cob wall. Cob is a mixture of clay, straw and water and dries very hard, like adobe. It is too hard for a digger bee to dig without any tools.
What kind of tool can a digger bee use? Water! She sips water, brings it back to the wall, and puts it where she'd like to dig. The water softens the wall.
Progress. She's able to get her head inside now. Just need some more water and a lot of time and effort to make a nest.
A whole city emerges. As the bees dig, the excavated soil forms a turret (a chimney) entrance to each nest. Only the females dig nests and there is only one bee in each. Now you'll see bees starting nests, collecting water, and bringing back pollen on their legs and nectar in their crop. They will mix the nectar and pollen together, lay an egg on it, seal off the brood chamber with soil from the wall, and start another brood chamber.
Watch a video of the bee frenzy at the water source. Note: it may take a few seconds to load.