Most people don’t realize that over 4,000 species of bees live in North America. Many of the same factors that threaten honey bees threaten wild bees. Honey bees just have better publicists so you hear more about the struggles of honey bees. People can help wild bees by making bee hotels. Bee hotels provide habitat to some of the common wild bees such as mason bees and leaf cutter bees that make their homes in small cavities they find in wood. If you read my earlier blog about my New Year Resolutions, you know that making a bee hotel was one of my 2019 resolutions. Some of the bee hotels you will see on-line are enormous. Think of the Las Vegas MGM Grand hotel for bees. My bee hotel design was more along the lines of a Hampton Inn. It is not fancy, but it gets the job done. The only general rule of thumb I could find in my research is that the bee hotel should have a depth of at least 8 inches. With this one piece of information, I set out to build my hotel.
The first thing I did was walk around my basement looking for items that would be useful for my project. I then went to my parents’ house because the stuff they have is more plentiful and nicer than mine. My father is a retired engineer, and he grew up in a poor rural area where people saved everything. This combination of career and upbringing means he also saves everything “because he might need it one day for a project.” He is like Batman and can make or fix anything. His basement is his Bat Cave.
I used all scrap wood and made most of the cuts with a hand saw. I got lazy towards the end and used a power saw to make two cuts, but you could easily do this project without power tools. I used the boards to make a wooden box that was open on one side. The roof hung over the sides to help keep water away from the joints. I just used hammer and nails to join the boards. I knew that I wanted the bee hotel to be installed on a fence, and I wanted to be able to hook the hotel to the fence without drilling a hole in the fence boards. I took some odd metal pieces from dad’s basement and bent them to about a 90 degree angle to make hooks. I drilled two holes in the back wall of the hotel and inserted the bent metal pieces so I could mount the hotel later. You could mount your hotel on a post. Just make sure the hotel is secure and not hung from a tree limb like a bird feeder. Bees don’t want their homes swaying in the wind.
After the hooks were installed and my wooden box was nailed together, I gave the box two coats of paint. I found a can of olive green exterior paint leftover from one of dad’s projects, so I used that. Some people get very artistic with their bee hotels, but I just wanted to keep it simple and use the paint I found.
I chose sections of bamboo to fill the hotel. The hollow cavities are the right size and shape for the bees. Bamboo is also lightweight. You could take large sections of wood, drill holes with an electric drill, and use that to fill your hotel. Wood adds weight, though. The bamboo I used was free. I harvested it the previous year from a house that had an overgrown landscape. I used this bamboo last summer to support my pole beans, so it was weathered and was easy to cut with a pair of loppers.
The front of the hotel needs to be covered with something to keep the bamboo from falling out of the box while still allowing the bees to come inside. I chose a square wire mesh that we had on hand already. The mesh has 1/2″ square openings. We used it last fall to make mouse guards for the honey bee hive entrances. I used small nails to attach the mesh. I partially drove the nail into the wood and then bent the nail over the mesh using a hammer to secure it. The hotel was ready to be placed on the garden fence.
Bee hotels should be above the ground at about eye level. They should receive some sun and should be near an area with sources of nectar and pollen. A flower or vegetable garden is perfect.
This project cost no money since I used only materials I had on hand or scavenged from my father’s basement. You can design your hotel based on whatever materials you find. You might even be able to convert a wooden bread box into a bee hotel. Have fun and be creative. You can complete this project with only a hammer and a hand saw. I did need a drill to make the two holes for the hooks. However, you may not need a drill depending upon how you want to mount your hotel. The total time involved was about five hours once I gathered all my materials. That time includes painting and cutting up the bamboo. You could probably do this project faster. The entire time I was working, I had to stop and throw a ball for my dog Forte. The project was also slowed by my dog Carmen carrying off the bamboo pieces as I cut them so she could chew on them.
The bee hotel would make a great weekend project with the family. Earth Day is fast approaching, and this could be a fun project to do as part of your celebration. Remember you don’t have to be a bee keeper to help bees. You could be the concierge at your very own bee hotel!
Now all we need is warm weather so the bees can start checking in.