This guide shows you how to build and where to put a bee hotel. Like human hotels, you'll be supplying accommodation, refreshment and even breakfast. Step by step, you'll learn how to provide bees with a comfy bed, 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 and intensive farming. 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. The simplest method is to use an old plastic bottle stuffed with lengths of twigs and stems.
Collect nesting materials. You can find bamboo in garden centres. For hollow reeds, grasses, or stems like cow parsley, try your local park. Different species of bee need holes from 2 to 10mm, so aim for a range of diameters. Make sure your materials are dry before starting.
You’ll also need:
- 2 litre plastic bottle
- 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.
- Make your lengths of bamboo, grass or reeds 3 cm shorter than the bottle to protect them from rain – use sharp garden clippers to trim them. Bees can’t burrow through the knots in bamboo, so avoid lengths with too many knots.
- Use sandpaper to smooth the ends of the bamboo or reeds if uneven. Bees will be put off by sharp edges barring entry to the holes.
- Use modelling clay or wax to block the rear of completely hollow canes – and to help secure the stems and bamboo in place.
- Before filling it completely, thread a length of strong twine through the bottle, so you can hang up the finished hotel.
- Add more bamboo and reeds until the bottle is tightly packed and secure.
Where to put a bee hotel
In full sun, facing south or south east.
Your bee hotel must be 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.
You may need to move your bee hotel in the autumn and winter to protect the nesting bees.
If it’s difficult to site your hotel in a well-protected – rainproof spot – 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.
Don't forget food and water
Healthy bees need a balanced diet of nectar and pollen.
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.
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.
The eggs are then left to hatch and the larvae will feed on the food supply left for them. Eventually they will pupate and break out as adult bees the following spring or summer.