Any frequent visitor to garden centres or online gardening websites will have probably noticed an increased number of boxes stuffed with blocks of wood that claim to be ‘bee hotels.’
We’ve seen these too, and noticing the consistently high prices they fetch, set about making our own for the allotment. Can’t be hard, we thought. Just assemble a load of bamboo canes and other hollow debris and, hey presto, the bees will be queuing to take up residence.
But after some research, we discovered that bees are much fussier than we first thought and, according to some top bee boffins, many of the bee hotels for sale are not up to the task.
Here, then, are a few pointers that you can use to help assemble your own bee hotel. But first, some information about your prospective inhabitants…
The solitary bee
There are many bees that buzz around your garden in search of a safe dwelling, that are known as solitary bees, and they can be a particular bunch when it comes to where they take up residence (unlike some of the other bugs that might hole up in the more shambolic-looking ‘bug hotels’).
There are over 240 species of solitary bee in the UK and we want to help their survival – like other types of bee they’re key pollinators, particularly for fruit such as our cider apple trees (which require a lot of pollinating work). Just because we call them ‘solitary’, it doesn’t mean they’re all antisocial. Unlike honey bees, which are happy to cram into a hive, our solitary friends like their own hole to nest in, but many are happy to have a few neighbours around. So a bunch of holes in close proximity is what we’re after.
Making a solitary bee hotel
Essentially, a dwelling for solitary bees should consist of holes drilled into wood. This can be one big block of wood (often referred to as a bee block), or a collection of smaller blocks.
But before you get busy with the drill and timber there are a few rules to observe, as follows…
Use natural wood
Only use natural wood for drilling. It can be sawn timber, like our off-cuts from another DIY project, or natural logs, but it must not have been painted or treated in any way at all. And if you’re using logs, avoid anything that might split. Tightly packed bamboo is also an option, although make sure the pieces are properly clear with no nobbly bits getting in the way.
If you’re using multiple pieces of wood then you’ll first need to construct a frame – again avoid anything with a high solvent content that has been recently treated.
Solitary bees nest in holes that are between 2mm and 10mm, so make sure you use drill bits within that range. The holes should only be accessible from the front, so either: don’t drill all the way through; fix a back on your hotel; or, when you put it in place, fix it against something solid such as a fence or wall.
Keep them dry
Solitary bees don’t mind the cold weather, but can’t stand the rain, so give your hotel an overhang to keep them dry. Build this in as part of your frame or, if you’re going for luxury apartments, give them a tiled roof instead. If they’re exposed to the elements then move to a more sheltered spot undercover over winter (but not into a heated environment) such as a shed.
Keep the flight path free
Site your bee hotel in a sunny south or south-east facing spot, at least one metre off the ground, and make sure it is fixed firmly in place. There should be no obstacles in front of it – your bees will want a clear flight path before checking in.
Keep it clean
Apparently one of the major problems after building bee hotels is that people stick them up in the garden and leave them there forever. Just as you would expect your room to be clean, so do the bees. So before fixing it in position check there’s no debris in the holes, and make sure the hole edges are smooth – a light sanding will do the trick. Check the holes at the end of summer for any unwanted pests that have moved in, or any dead cells, and clean these out. You should also replace your holes every two years.
If, like us, you have built a frame then cleaning and replacing the individual blocks is a much simpler task.
What wildlife has made their home in your garden? Let us know in the comments.