Children's activities

How can I make a bee hotel?

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.

Build a bee hotel during the coronavirus lockdown

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.

A bee hotel is a great eco project during the coronavirus lockdown

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.

Bee hotel Arboretum de Lauzelle
Bees entering their hotel

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!).

How to make a bee hotel during the coronavirus lockdown
During the coronavirus lockdown, why not make a bee hotel?

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.

Children and adults can work together to build a bee hotel

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!

Build a bee hotel during the coronavirus lockdown!

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.

Convert wooden pallets into a luxury bee hotel!

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.

Bee hotels can also be purchased, such as this one from Amazon. Click on the photo for more info.

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.

Bee hotel by Elaine, Isle of Wight
Bee hotel by Elaine, Isle of Wight

Want to read more posts like this?

Simply add your email below and every new Discovering Belgium blog post will BUZZ straight into your inbox:

28 replies »

    • Ha! Thanks for your positive response Elaine! Love your comment about “60+ children!” Let me know how it goes, and I wish you both success and much fun!

      • Well we didn’t manage such a grandiose hotel as yours, but there are several very acceptable B&B s around our garden for Bees and Insects, and we have left the newly emerging nettles too.Such a beautiful sunny day in UK today .

    • I’m sure that bee hotels are helping bee populations, and insects in general. You can see them everywhere these days, which is good of course.

  1. Neat idea, Denzil!
    I did want to stick up for honeybees, too – – they definitely can sting, and kids shouldn’t monkey with a hive (and I’ve never kept bees) but the times I’ve been around honeybees, they’ve been amazingly non-aggressive. They’ve landed on me many times, without stinging. Yellow-jackets, on the other hand, I just run for it!

      • Sorry, yes, a type of ground-nesting wasp, roughly the size of a honey bee, but narrower, and meaner. If you happen to step on their burrow, while cutting the grass, etc. they will become very aggressive indeed, as I can attest. While the paper and mud-dauber wasps are not aggressive at all, definitely live-and-let-live types, and I’ve never once been stung by any of them, or by bumble- or honey-bees

    • Thanks Henry. Of course you need space to construct such a large one, but hopefully my suggestions to buy or make a smaller one will be heeded. Take care!

  2. What a great idea, Denzil. I’m going to see if hubby and I can build bee hotel. We live in a eucalyptus woods in Southern California in the US, and a bee hotel would be so beneficial to our neighborhood. I really like the one you built – very attractive, and a terrific addition to a garden. BTW, it’s not a natural eucalyptus woods, it was planted by some wild eyed and sadly misinformed person about 100 years ago, but that’s another story.

    • Even a small one would probably help the local bees. Why plant a eucalyptus wood, I wonder? I presume for some commercial reason? I can’t imagine it being much use to the local wildlife as I don’t think it’s a native American tree. Guess someone thought they could make a fortune from its timber? Or its oils?

      • Yes, you guessed right. The blue gum eucalyptus were planted in straight rows about 100 years ago by an industrious fool who thought they’d make great railroad ties for the railroad industry, but they’re the wrong kind of tree so this forest became a suburban housing tract. When we moved in 35 years ago, it felt like we were living in a tree house, so romantic. We’d been told the forest was mature at that time, and the 3 dozen or so trees on our property looked manageable.

        In other parts of California, the blue and red gum trees were planted by the millions as future firewood, but in fact their sap makes them fire prone and thus very dangerous for this state. They are invasive beasts, and their shaggy bark peels constantly in messy drifts all over the place. No longer so romantic.

        Over the years we discovered some miserable facts about the trees. First, they are host to longhorn beetles that deposit their eggs in the bark. When the larva hatch, they lunch on the tree sap, leaving the tree depleted and diseased, so the trees fall over. Did I mention that these enormous roach-like flying bugs also get into the house? You might have heard me screaming in terror.

        The housing association, and our city, named Lake Forest (two manmade lakes, and these manufactured eucalyptus forests all over) won’t let us cut the trees without a permit – is the tree sick or growing oddly or give them a good reason why we must cut it. About 70% of the trees actually belong to the HOA, so they try to take care of the trees, cutting and trimming as needed. It’s a battle to get them to cut them down, and now that the trees are massive, having not been at all mature 35 years ago, most of us want the trees gone. They are too dense, they invade everyone’s plumbing system causing all kinds of damage and backups and floods, and they are extremely dangerous. The HOA will cut down any dead tree, so when I asked the manager how she could tell if a tree was dead, she said that mushrooms grow around the base. My neighbors and I thought we might buy portobellos and place them around the trees. LOL.

        Many years ago 2 of the trees near our property line but actually on HOA land fell straight over, right from the root. One fell horizontally across the entire street. Its top landed on the far sidewalk. We live across from an elementary school and the tree fell 5 minutes after the last child walked past. It was so massive that cars couldn’t get around it so the city sent a crew to cut it in sections to remove it. The other tree caused less damage but also had to be cut in sections for removal. It had fallen over in the middle of the night. It always sounds and feels like an earthquake when they fall, and I know what an earthquake feels like.

        Three years ago, while the students were exiting the school, being picked up by parents parking up and down the street, one of the trees fell straight down the sidewalk and across 2 parked cars. The vacant car nearest the tree was completely destroyed. The left passenger seat of the car in front of that one was crushed and destroyed also. But the second car had a person in the front seat, and she would have died had she been in the back.

        Over the decades we’ve lived here, we’ve cut down most of our trees, always with permission, but we still had 4 massive trees, now leaning over dangerously, pointing toward the street. Had they fallen, they would have fallen toward the school. I was terrified someone would be killed and determined to get the last eucs off my property. It took months of haggling with the HOA board and the manager before they finally agreed that we could cut them. Of course, if we are given permission to cut the trees on our property, we pay for it – thousands to do so.

        There are eucalyptus growing all over California, planted by fool after fool, and there are constant discussions about getting rid of all of them as they are all non-native and invasive. In addition to the dangers I’ve listed above, they smell of menthol, which I don’t like, and many people are allergic to them. But I think these monsters are here to stay.

        I bet this is more than you wanted to know about eucalyptus trees, right? I only wrote this for you, Denzil, so you’re welcome to delete it. I didn’t intend to take over your blog.

Add a comment; ask a question:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.