This is the second of my series on projects to occupy adults and children during the coronavirus lockdown. The first was on birds. Now we move to bees. It’s time to make a bee hotel!
The coronavirus lockdown is being extended to more and countries. Here’s a weekend or holiday project for adults and children.
Bee populations continue to decline worldwide. There are many, interacting reasons for this bad news. These include climate change, intensive farming, land conversion to housing, reduced food sources, exposure to agrochemicals, disease, parasites and invasive species. There’s not a lot the ordinary nature-lover like you and I can do about mitigating the effects of these.
However, another reason for declining bee numbers is the decreased availability of nesting places. And this is something we can help with!
Build a bee hotel
A bee hotel is a man-made (or woman-made or child-made!) construction that provides an artificial but all-year-round safe and secure accommodation for bees. It can replace natural habitats that have been destroyed for one reason or another. This post describes an upmarket 5-star hotel. Think of the Ritz, the Savoy, the Burj Al Arab, or the New York City Plaza.
But you don’t have to go to such extravagance. The first bee hotel I built was more like a cheap 1-star motel than a 5-star hotel. It consisted of a large wooden post into which I drilled holes of various diameters and depths and then attached to a wall. But it worked. I’ll give you some instructions and examples of that kind of construction later.
What types of bees visit a bee hotel?
When we think of bees we generally think of honeybees living in hives. But there are hundreds of species of wild bees. These are called ‘solitary bees’ because they make individual nest cells for their larvae.
Some of these bees nest in holes in the ground or in sandy banks. Others use the hollow stems of dead plants, or tunnels previously bored into dead wood by beetles. They do not swarm, nor live in hives. Solitary bees are harmless. They do not have painful stings like honey bees.
They collect nectar and pollen from flowers just like honeybees, and are vital for pollination.
A bee hotel can provide safe and secure all-year-round accommodation for these wild, solitary bees.
How to make a bee hotel
I am going to make a bee hotel from old pallets. These are generally available for free or for a small fee. I had to do a bit of searching but eventually found a pallet supplier locally who was happy to get rid of four old and broken pallets. In fact the following week I came across some pallets that were in much better condition, so I would advise spending some time to find decent ones.
Anyway, a couple of the pallets I ended up with were in a very bad state, so I found some old planks in the shed to repair them. Then it was a simple matter of piling up a few on top of each other. Well, I say simple, but these old pallets are quite heavy, so I would recommend a couple of adults moving them into place. (Actually, I pulled a muscle in my back moving them by myself, which took several weeks to recover!).
I then visited the local forest and found some large branches or small tree trunks. Next, I cut them into more manageable sizes. I drilled holes of varying size and depth into them. These will act as nest cavities for the bees.
Also from the forest, I collected various smaller branches and twigs and cut them to size to fit into the spaces between the pallets. I also found some old bamboo canes which I bound together. And stuffed some dried grass into other cavities.
Does a bee hotel need a roof?
Just like any accommodation, a bee hotel needs a roof to keep off the rain! At least as much as possible. As I was building a 5-star hotel, I went in search of the real thing, and found some discarded but unused roofing tiles! Actually the tiles were in a better condition than the pallets. Amazingly, they were a perfect fit to the top of the bee hotel. These are going to be the driest bees in Belgium!
How to optimally site a bee hotel
The ideal location for a bee hotel would be south- or southwest-facing, maybe at the bottom of your garden. If you are able to grow lots of wild flowers loved by bees in the immediate vicinity of your bee hotel, so much the better. This will ensure they have a nearby food supply. You can also add a water source, such as a shallow dish, as bees need water as well as housing.
I also hope that the bee hotel will attract other insects too. For example, in the winter months it could prove useful for hibernating butterflies, ladybirds and other beetles. I actually thought that the ground floor of the hotel might look enticing for a hedgehog. As you can see, I added a bit of roof decoration as a finishing touch.
Other types of bee hotels
Of course, you don’t have to go to such extremes to build a luxury 5-star bee hotel. As I mentioned, you can simply drill some holes of different diameters and depths in a block of wood, and nail or screw it onto a fence, wall or tree. Try and position it in the direct sunshine if possible, and out of the wind.
Another simple idea is to drill a few holes on the south side of a fence post, or an old shed. Here is a short video of a simple bee hotel in action.
Books on bees and bee hotels
If you want to know more about how to make your garden attractive to bees, here are some books. I haven’t read them so can’t personally recommend them. However, I did some research and read the reviews and they are all highly recommended. (Reading is also something we can all do during the coronavirus lockdown!) Just click on them for more info.
Some of the books are for younger children; others for older ones, or adults.
This was the second in my series of home-based nature projects for children. Making a bee hotel might be a great project for you and your children or grandchildren. I hope it might provide some fun for children and adults during this terrible coronavirus lockdown and crisis. Stay safe and healthy wherever you are!
Readers’ bee hotels
Send me your photos of bee hotels you have made or purchased!
First is Elaine from the Isle of Wight, who read this post and commented that “two 60+ children will start one today!” She describes it as a “basic B&B for bees.” Basic maybe, but I am sure that many bees will find it the perfect accommodation. May it bring you both much pleasure Elaine, and thanks for sharing.
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