Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are spending more time at home and away from nature. If you want to introduce a bit of nature back into your life – and you're lucky enough to have access to a yard or garden – then follow our simple instructions and build a bee hotel. You'll learn how to provide bees with a comfy home, nutritious food, and a refreshing water supply.
Why build a bee hotel?
Our bees are facing an unprecedented crisis. They’ve lost much of their natural habitat in the past 60 years – including 97% of wildflower-rich meadows. And they're under assault from pesticides, intensive farming and climate change. But by creating bee-friendly spaces where we live, we can start to replace and restore some of this lost habitat and help Britain bloom for bees.
What you’ll need
There are lots of ways to make a bee hotel. Holes drilled into untreated wood is one way. Some are more sophisticated, but here’s a very simple method using an old plastic bottle (or length of water pipe) stuffed with lengths of twigs and hollow stems.
Collect nesting materials such as lengths of bamboo, hollow plant stems, bunches of dried twigs and grasses. Different species of wild solitary bee need holes from 2 to 10 mm, so aim for a range of diameters. Make sure your materials are dry before starting.
You’ll also need:
- 2 litre plastic bottle (or length of water pipe)
- Craft knife and cutting mat
- Strong twine, about 1 metre long
- Garden clippers or secateurs
- Modelling clay (optional)
Bee hotel design: a step-by-step guide
- With a craft knife, 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.
- Solitary bees go deep inside the hollow stems or bamboo canes, so use lengths of at least 100mm, ideally 150mm.
- To keep the stems and canes dry from rain, make them 3 cm shorter than the cylinder – use sharp garden clippers to trim them. Bees can’t burrow through the knots in bamboo, so avoid canes with too many knots.
- Use sandpaper to smooth the ends of the bamboo or stems if uneven. Bees will be put off by sharp edges barring entry to the holes. Splinters on the inside edges of stems can also cut their wings.
- Use modelling clay or wax to block the rear of completely hollow canes – and to help secure the stems and bamboo in place. Bind the bunched stems and canes with twine.
- Before filling the cylinder, thread a length of twine through, so you can hang up the finished hotel, making sure it’s secure and can’t be blown about in the wind.
- If needed, pack in more hollow stems, bamboo, twigs and reeds until the cylinder is tightly packed and secure.
Where to put a bee hotel
In full sun, facing south or south east.
Locate your bee hotel at least a metre off the ground, with no vegetation blocking the entrance. Keep it dry at all times, to prevent the contents going mouldy.
Secure it firmly to a wall, fence or free-standing post while in use.
As this is a temporary design, you’ll need to move your bee hotel in the autumn and winter to protect the bee eggs inside.
You can move it into a garden shed or similar. Basically, somewhere dry and unheated. Do this from October to February, and then put it outside again in March.
Then, after the new generation of solitary bees has emerged (you’ll see if they’ve made their way out of the hollow stems in the springtime as any mud covering the hollows will be opened up), you can replace the stems with fresh materials for a new year. You can even try a more permanent design to attract more solitary bees.
Don't forget food and water
Healthy bees need a balanced diet from different types of plants across the seasons, some of which will provide nectar or pollen, or both.
You can create a wildflower patch with lots of goodies that flower at different times of the year. Even if you don't have much of a garden, you can still feed bees from a window box of herbs.
And bees need water too – preferably rainwater. Solitary mason bees also seek mud for their nest building.
Getting ready for your guests
Bee hotels are used as breeding places by cavity-nesting solitary bees like Mason bees, Leafcutter bees and Yellow-faced bees which naturally nest in hollow stems, earth banks or old beetle holes in dead wood. None of these bees are aggressive, so they are fine around children and pets.
From spring through summer, different species of bee will hopefully build cells inside the canes and lay eggs. They'll add pollen and nectar to feed the larvae, and block the entrance to the holes with leaves, mud or other materials. Others are ‘cuckoo bees’ that will pop in to lay their eggs when the hard-working owner is away.
Keep a watch for bees and other insects inspecting your bee hotel to see if they want to take up residence.
This is a simple, temporary design. If your bee hotel is not occupied straightaway, or at all, don’t be put off.
There are other permanent designs to provide so do look at making one of those as well.