Over the past number of years bees have lost much of their natural habitat as they’re under assault from pesticides, intensive farming, climate change and have lost a huge percentage of wildflower rich meadows. Creating Pollinator Corridors and using alternatives to pesticides go some-way towards remedying this. Another thing we can do is to create bee friendly spaces in our gardens such as bee hotels. These will help to provide bees with a comfy home, nutritious food, and refreshing water supply.
There are several ways to make a bee hotel. The following is a simple and easy method and requires very little, just an old plastic bottle or length of water pipe. These are stuffed with lengths of twigs and hollow stems. Have your kids help and it will educate them about the importance of bees and get them interested in nature around them.
Collect hollow plant stems and bamboo and bunches of both grasses and dried twigs. Aim for a range of diameters as varying size holes are needed for different bees. Make sure all materials are dry. You will also need a 2 litre used plastic bottle or length of water pipe, some sandpaper, a craft knife and cutting mat, strong twine (I metre approx.), garden secateurs/clippers and modelling clay (optional).
Cut both ends off the plastic bottle to create a cylinder. If using a length of water pipe to create the cylinder, sand the edges smooth.
Use lengths of at least 100mm (ideally 150mm) as solitary bees go deep inside the hollow stems or bamboo canes.
To keep the stems and canes dry from rain, us garden clippers to trim them 3cm shorter than the cylinder. Avoid bamboo with too many knots as bees can’t burrow through them.
If the bamboo or stems are uneven, use sandpaper to smooth them. Sharp edges will stop them entering the holes and splinters on the inside edges of stems can cut their wings.
Use modelling clay to block the rear of hollow canes and to help secure the stems and bamboo in place.
Thread a length of twine through the cylinder before filling it so you can hang up the finished hotel making it secure and keeping it from blowing about in the wind.
Bind bunched canes and stems with twine. Pack hollow stems, bamboo, twigs and reeds until the cylinder is tightly packed and secure.
Don’t Forget Food And Water
Bees need a balanced diet from different types of plants across the seasons to keep healthy. Some of these will provide nectar or pollen or both.
Create a wildflower patch with lots of plants that flower at different times of the ear. Even if your garden is small you can feed bees from a window box of herbs. They need water too preferably rain water. Solitary mason bees seek mud for their nest building.
Cavity nesting bees such as Mason bees, Leafcutter and Yellow-faced bees use bee hotels as breeding places as they naturally nest in hollow stems, old beetle hold in dead wood or earth banks. NONE OF THESE BEES ARE AGGRESSIVE SO THEY ARE FINE AROUND CHILDREN AND PETS.
Hopefully, different species of bee will build cells inside the canes and lay eggs from spring through summer. They’ll add nectar and pollen to feed the larvae and block the entrance to the holes with mud, leaves or materials. Others are ‘cuckoo bees’ who pop in to lay their eggs when the hard-working owner is away.
Keep an eye out for bees and other insects inspecting your bee hotel to see if they want to take up residence.
It is important to place your bee hotel at least a metre off the ground free from the likelihood of vegetation blocking the entrance. South or South East facing in full sunlight. Prevent the contents going mouldy by keeping the hotel dry at all times.
While it is in use place it securely to a wall fence or post. As the above is a temporary design it will need to be moved in autumn and winter to protect the bee eggs inside. Putting it in somewhere like a garden shed should suffice. Somewhere dry and unheated from Oct to Feb and it can be put outside again in March.
In the spring, if you see the mud covering the hollows has opened up, it will mean that the new solitary bees have emerged from the hollow stems. These stems can then be replaced with fresh ones.
This bee hotel is simple and if it is not occupied right away or at all, there are other more permanent designs that you might like to try.