As the planet continues to experience the loss of plants and animals on an unprecedented scale, it is now increasingly important that we all try and do our bit for nature. Though it can be disheartening and tough to know what to do sometimes, making one small step could be a real start to making a difference. For example, one easy thing you could do, is to provide a home for wildlife, such as a wildflower area, pond, or even a bee hotel.
The increasingly popular bee hotel is a home that is made for solitary bees, which include Leafcutter and Mason bees, and are those that live on their own rather than in colonies, make up about 90% of UK bee species, and are very important pollinators. With the loss of 97% of wildflower meadows since the Second World War, along with other factors such as pesticides and intensive farming practices, solitary bees are now heavily under threat, with less suitable habitat currently available to them.
One way we can help, is to produce nesting sites in the form of bee hotels. These structures are made up of a frame filled with tubes mimicking the natural cavities solitary bees use to nest in, which are typically tunnels in dead wood or hard soil. From spring to summer, different species will build inside these tubes, lay their eggs, add a supply of nectar and pollen, and block up the entrance. The eggs will then hatch, feed, and pupate, before emerging the following spring.
Though spring is the best time to make and put up a bee hotel, you can make one anytime you wish. There are also no set rules on how to make or use a bee hotel, as they are a relatively new phenomenon and advice on them is changing all the time. For now though, here’s some guidance I can give to help you make your very own bee hotel. They can take some time to make, but are very rewarding, and are also a great activity to currently do as part of your 30 Days Wild challenge!
How to make a bee hotel
Examples of considerations include:
- Simple or aesthetically pleasing and complex design?
- Vertical or horizontal?
- Sloped or flat, overhanging roof?
- For your garden or a small space e.g. a window sill?
- Use only recycled and reclaimed resources?
Always think of the bees when making your decisions though!
What you need:
- Offcuts of planks of untreated wood, about 1.5cm thick
- Tape measure and pencil
- Hammer and nails
- Sand paper
- Tubes varying in size from about 2-12mm, with a length of at least 10mm, though ideally about 16mm. For example: bamboo canes, hollow plant stems such as sunflower stems, or bespoke bee tubes
- Chunks of untreated hardwood or logs
- Bits to hang up the bee hotel e.g. T bracket, screws, screw driver, Rawlplug wall plugs
Step by step guide:
- Decide on your bee hotel design. Bear in mind, that smaller is better to be able to easily move the bee hotel around and to encourage bees to nest at lower densities
- Use a tape measure and pencil to mark out the pieces of wood you need; the most simple designs have 5 pieces. Then use a saw to cut your wood, and sand paper to sand down any rough or uneven edges
- Use a hammer and as many nails as you need, to create the frame of your bee hotel
- Cut your chosen tubes to the right length to fit into the frame of your bee hotel, and sand paper off any rough ends. By using several different sizes of tubes, you increase the chance of attracting a wider range of bee species, due to variation in their preference for nest tunnel size. You can also drill holes into chunks of untreated hardwood or logs to create some more variety in your bee hotel
- Carefully build up your frame with your tubes and drilled wood, until it is filled. I suggest lying your bee hotel on a tilted surface to make this easier to do
- Decide on a suitable location for your bee hotel. It is important to place it in full sunlight, for example facing south or south-east, at least 1 metre above the ground, and not covered by vegetation
- Hang your bee hotel up. For mine I used a t bracket, screws, screw driver, drill and rawlplug wall plugs to attach it to the south side of my house
- Then wait for the bees to come to you!
- The smaller the bee hotel is, the more effective it will be!
- Create an overhang to give the bee hotel tubes some better protection from the rain
- Every autumn take down your bee hotel and store it in a cool and dry location, to reduce risks such as of fungal infections
- For best results, clean the bee hotel out every year, including removing, cleaning and preparing any pupae for release the following year
The bee hotel I made is far from perfect, but I hope it gives you some inspiration to help make yourself an even better bee hotel!