Building a bee hotel can be a fun activity and great way to attract pollinators to your garden! There are many different styles to choose from, this article will show you a unique design that is rustic and provides a great accent to your flower beds or micro-prairies.
==>(See how to design/build your own backyard micro-prairie – click on the image below!)
For this particular bee hotel I utilized a black locust log and limb. For those who aren’t familiar, black locust is famous for being one of the most rot-resistant woods in North America. There is an old saying that barb-wire will rust away before the black locust fence post rots!
Why build bee hotels?
Many native bee populations have been in steep declines over the years. Some species are actually threatened with extinction. So anything we can do to help mitigate and prevent further damage to bee population will be beneficial. And not just beneficial to the bees, but the rest of the ecosystem, as bees are key pollinators for all the fruits, vegetables, and flowers that we enjoy!
So, in addition to planting native plants, we can create even more habitat for bees by building bee-houses and bee-hotels!
Bee hotels not only look great in a garden, but can attract some friendly solitary bees! Solitary bees live by themselves, and don’t have a queen/hive. They only sting if threatened, get caught up in clothing, or are stepped on. So they are a minimal risk to people/pets.
And, many of these solitary and native bees are better for pollinating your flowers and vegetables than honey bees…….
Solitary Bees are Great Pollinators
Well, it just so happens that solitary bees are wonderful pollinators. According to Bryan Danforth, and entomology professor at Cornell University, native bees are several times better at pollination than honey bees. His research has found that the native bees mainly care about getting pollen and taking it back to their nests, where as honey bees want the nectar .
Tools and Materials to build a log-style bee hotel
- A log, or tree slice, 8″ long. Make sure this is cut at a slight angle so that the
- Tree limb or branch to use as a post, ~2″ diameter, 5′ long. Or something that you can attach the log to that will get the bee house 3-5′ off the ground.
- Saw or chainsaw. If you don’t have one, a bow-saw is a cheap investment and can cut most logs fairly quickly.
- Tape Measure
- Drill & drill bits (1/16″-3/8″ sizes). I used a cordless drill, but you can use a drill press. Heck, you could even do this with an old brace/bit or egg-beater if that’s all you own!
- Spade Bit (optional) – for drilling the hole that the post will attach into. These are special drill bits that can cut a hole very quickly. Choose a size that will be matched to the stake you use (final diameter).
- Pocket knife, or draw-knife – for shaping the post where it attaches to the hotel
- Hammer, or large rock, brick – this is for pounding the bee hotel into the ground. Or just use a shovel to dig a hole and bury it. (optional)
- Chicken Wire (optional)
How to build a bee house (with pictures)
- Cut the log. If starting from a log, use a chainsaw, or hand saw to cut off slice approximately 8″ long (20 cm). Make sure it has a slight taper to it to allow rain to drain off. You don’t want water getting into the holes, as it can erode away the mud that mason bees will use.
- Measure your piece, and make sure you are happy with all of the dimensions. Use chisels or hand planes to flatten the face of the log (if needed).
- Secure the log in a vise, or lay it flat on the ground.
- Drill the bee hotel ‘rooms’. Drill holes in the log to 4-6″ deep (10-15 cm), spaced at least 3/4″ apart (~2 cm). I used a variety of drill bits ranging from 1/16″ (1.5 mm) up to 3/8″ (10 mm) diameter. Different bee species prefer different hole diameters. (See image below for a quick reference chart on what bees prefer what size hole.)
- But, keep holes away from where you will mount the post. So if you will mount it directly on top of a post, you will want to make sure there are no holes in the bottom-middle of the log, from the base to 2″ up. If using pole brackets, don’t drill holes where they will interfere with the mounting hardware.
- Drill the mounting hole(s). Now re-position the house so that you can drill a hole in the base. I used a spade bit to do this, that was 1″ diameter (25.4 mm ). Drill the hole to a depth of approximately 1.5X to 2X the diameter of the hole. Going to this depth will help ensure a secure fit. (If you will mount your bee house using pole brackets, skip this step)
- Prepare the mounting pole. Now go to your tree limb, and remove the bark. I used my draw knife for this task, but a hatchet or pocket knife would work fine. You will want to use the end that is smallest diameter for attaching to the bee house.
- Taper the stake. Use a pocket knife or draw knife to shave the wood and create a taper. For my limb, I tapered it down to approximately 1″. Take care when doing this to not cut yourself. If using a knife, keep the blade pointed away from you. Make sure you don’t remove too much material at this stage! You need to have an interference, or very tight fit, as close to a circle as possible.
- Assemble the house to the post. If using pole brackets, go ahead and install them.
- If you are mounting the house directly on top of the post, the first you must get the house secure in a vice or using clamps. Or just positioned securely in a way that you have clear access to the mounting hole.
- Force the post into the bee house. I found it easier to get started by rotating the post as I was pressing in. You only need to get it started, not completely inserted at this point.
- Secure it to the post. Once it is somewhat snug, you can remove the assembly. Grab the post with both hands, and with the bee house ‘up’, tap the post on concrete or hard surface. The tapping/pounding of the post on the ground will firmly snug up the bee house/hotel.
- Test your assembly. Try to pull / remove the bee house from the post. If it is a very tight fit, then you are done. After a few strong taps, I was unable to disassemble this while standing on the house and pulling on the stake! Note – you should probably do this on a rock in the ground. It may be possible to crack old concrete by pounding, and you don’t want to do that in your basement!
*A further optional step is to secure chicken wire or something similar over the bee house. This prevents woodpeckers from trying to get to the larva inside. I’m trying to make it without this as I really like the looks, and I already have ‘occupants’. If I note any woodpecker damage I will update this post.
A short video of bee footage at our hotel
I made this short video for youtube to show some of the bees entering/exiting the hotel as they lay their eggs. It also shows a condensed summary of the build process. Hope you enjoy!
Place the bee house into the garden
Now you can place your bee hotel out in your garden! Select an area that will receive morning sun, and afternoon shade if possible. It is best to have the front face of the bee house facing South East. By positioning the house in this orientation you will ensure morning sun, and afternoon shade.
So, if the ground is moist, you can might be able to just sharpen the end that will go into the ground. Then you can just stab it into the ground, and pound it in further with a sledge hammer or maul. I placed several large rocks around mine for added support. Alternatively, you can just dig a hole 1-2 feet deep and bury it.
Do Bee Hotels Work?
Well, have a look at this gallery! You can see several holes that have been packed with leaves from leaf-cutter bees, as well as some other bees entering/exiting the bee hotel! It was really fun being able to walk out to our backyard micro-prairie and watch all the activity in our bee-house/hotel!
Give it a try!
This was a fun little project that used no hardware, no glue, and I fabricated everything by hand, which was very gratifying. It is even more satisfying to see it occupied so soon after putting it outside in early Spring.
If you decide to build one, let me know! Send us pictures or add them in the comments. I would love to see your designs!
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 Cornell Chronicle, Oct 2011. https://news.cornell.edu/stories/2011/10/native-bees-are-better-pollinators-honeybees