With almost one in ten species of wild bee facing extinction, bees need our help. This recent blog post covers why bees are such important pollinators and the reasons for their global declines. There are lots of ways we can take action to save bees, including creating bee-friendly habitats and nesting sites, whilst getting crafty and creative at the same time!
People are pretty familiar with bumblebees and honey bees but less so with solitary bees, which actually account for the majority of bee species in Britain. Out of an estimated 275 British species, just under 250 of them are solitary bees, such as mining bees, leafcutter bees and mason bees. These bees have mastered the concept of social distancing: unlike bumblebees and honey bees they don’t live in colonies and nest alone. In fact, solitary bees spend most of their adult life searching for suitable nesting sites.
Different solitary bee species choose to nest in different places: from underground burrows, to hollow flower stems and dead wood. At this time of year they are on the hunt for the perfect nesting site but sadly their search is becoming increasingly difficult with the continued loss of their natural habitat. That’s where you come in – you can provide solitary bees with an artificial nest in your garden, local green space, balcony or windowsill! It’s particularly important that we give these bees a helping hand as they are fantastic pollinators: a single red mason bee can pollinate the same number of wildflowers as 120 worker honey bees.
Bee hotels are available to buy at most garden centres but now that we all have a bit (A LOT) more time on our hands and potentially some little people to keep entertained why not have a go at making your own bee hotel for nesting solitary bees? Dave and I have been busy in our gardens doing just that.
Here are two really simple ways make your own bee hotel using natural and recycled materials.
Wooden bee hotel
You will need:
- Waste wood such as a log or untreated timber
- Drill bits
- Make sure your piece of wood is fairly dry.
- Drill holes that are regularly spaced out. Different species of bee occupy different diameter tunnels so create a variety of sizes from 3mm – 10mm.
- Make the holes as deep as possible but don’t go all the way through to the other side as bees prefer closed-end tunnels.
- Ensure the sides of the tunnels are smooth and free of splinters as bees will avoid holes with rough edges. You can use sandpaper to smooth the entrance of the hole.
Bamboo bee hotel
You will need:
- A plastic bottle or yoghurt pot
- Bamboo canes
- Duct tape
- A craft knife or scissors
- Junior hacksaw
- This video goes through step by step how to make the bee hotel.
- I used bamboo canes in my hotel as I cut down some bamboo in the garden last week so had lots to spare but you can also use dried hollow flower stems, like those from Cow parsley, or even paper straws.
- When your masterpiece is complete hang it at least 1m from the ground against a sunny southern facing wall.
- If possible place it next to some wildflowers: solitary bees have short flying ranges so they don’t forage very far for pollen and nectar.
Here’s how my bee hotel turned out!
Now I’m just waiting for my first guest…
You can tell if the holes have been used because the bee will plug them with mud or leaves. The female will collect some pollen, stick it together with nectar and lay the egg on top of it inside the tunnel. She then builds a partition wall to seal off the individual egg in its own cell and repeats this process all the way down the tunnel until the whole tube is filled. After closing off the entrance she will move on to another tunnel. Post-hatching, the larvae spend their first few months growing in the nest cell feeding on the ‘babyfood’ the mother provided. They overwinter as a cocoon before emerging in spring as adults and the whole cycle starts again!
Looks like Dave’s bee hotel has already a check-in!
You can identify the species nesting in your bee hotel by the materials it uses to plug the entrance. The 3 bee species you are most likely to attract are:
Red mason bee – plug tubes with mud
Wood carder bee – plug tubes with plant hairs
Leaf cutter bee – plug tubes with leaves
These are two really simple ways to make a bee hotel but if you’re looking to make something a bit fancier there are lots of resources online to help you create a 5-star hotel: check them out here and here.
Finally, keep an eye on your bee hotel and record what species are visiting, you can even log them in iRecord, and be patient – you might not have any check-ins in your first year but keep a look out!