PART 2. HOW DO YOU MAKE A BEE HOTEL?
What is the best size for a Bee Hotel?
This depends on the type of native bee!
For Resin Bees, Leafcutters and Reed Bees, make many small bee hotels and set them up in different parts of your garden. This mimics the natural situation: in the bush, the pithy stems or holes in timber, that these native bees use for their nests, are fairly scattered. Researchers have found that pests and parasites may build up excessively in very large bee hotels or 'bee walls' and this can cause a drop in bee numbers over time.
Here are two small Bee Hotels made from bamboo canes and drilled timber blocks -- available from the Secret Garden, Richmond NSW.
For Blue Banded Bees, place the clay nest blocks in groups. In the bush, these bees often build in quite dense clusters. Their nest sites are like a large village with dozens of individual nests. The scent of the nests encourages other bees to build in the site. So if you want to make some clay nest blocks for Blue Banded Bees, you should place them in groups of about ten blocks. Small isolated clay blocks are unlikely to attract Blue Banded Bees.
These clay blocks for blue banded bees are set up in a group.
What materials should I use?
For sustainability, it is great to choose materials that are recycled or scrap when you build a Bee Hotel.
Choose non-toxic materials. Avoid timber that has been chemically treated.
Lengths of bamboo make great nests for Resin Bees and Leafcutters. Cut the bamboo so that the piece has one open, cut off end and one end sealed by a node (see the photo, below). The cavities need to be about 15 cm long. If the distances between the nodes in your bamboo are less than 15 cm long, you can drill through a node to make a longer cavity. The cavities inside the bamboo should also be between 3 and 13 mm wide. Native bees are unlikely to use bamboo holes that are wider than 10 mm but wasps and other kinds of insects may use them.
The side of this piece of bamboo has been carefully removed, so we can see the row of tiny nest cells built inside the cavity by a resin bee.
Resin Bees, Wasp Mimic Bees and Masked Bees love holes drilled in timber blocks. We prefer to use hardwood for these blocks. This lasts better in the weather and the drilled holes are smoother and more attractive to the bees. Suitable timber types include ironbark, jarrah and red gum. Read our step-by-step guide to making drilled blocks for native bees.
Les Dollin demonstrates how to make nest blocks for resin bees in Aussie Bee Online article 26.
Reed bees like to cut nest burrows inside pithy stems. Cut pieces of lantana cane about 20 cm long to make great nests for Reed Bees. You can pack these tightly into a frame, with or without other kinds of nesting material. Alternatively tie a small bundle of canes tightly with some tie wire. Then attach the bundle firmly, with waterproof tape, wire or plant ties, to a branch in a shrub with the cut ends of the canes poking out of the foliage. Make sure that the bundle does not move around too much when the wind blows.
Reed bees nest in pithy stems, such as this bundle of cut Lantana canes.
Blue Banded Bees like to nest in soft clay soils. You can make small portable clay blocks for Blue Banded Bees by packing clay soil into short lengths of plastic downpipe. Read our step-by-step guide to making clay blocks for Blue Banded Bees.
Blue banded bees will nest in small clay blocks made from short pieces of drain pipe.
If you wish to set up your Bee Hotel in a place that is exposed to the rain, you may like to pack the nests you have made into a small waterproof frame. You can make the frame for a Bee Hotel from a wide variety of materials such as:
-- timber offcuts
-- a hollow log
-- a piece of downpipe
-- an empty plastic soft drink or milk bottle with the top cut off
Alternatively you can attach a small waterproof overhanging 'roof' to your Bee Hotel. You can make a roof from materials such as:
-- a galvanised ant cap (bend the corners underneath so that they are not sharp)
-- a small square of corrugated iron
-- a small piece of timber
By the way, native bees were nesting in man-made structures long before anyone thought of making a Bee Hotel! Over the years, we have seen them nest in many types of small crevices or holes, such as:
-- holes in fence posts and buildings;
-- a gap between two books on a verandah bookcase
-- a space between bags that were stacked in a banana plantation packing shed;
-- a gap between floor boards, under a mat on an outdoor deck.
What size holes should I drill in my timber block?
A variety of native bee species of different sizes will nest in holes drilled in timber blocks. We find that a mixture of holes between 3 mm and 10 mm wide works best.
The depth of the drilled holes is also very important. If a drilled hole is too short, the young bees that emerge from the nest may be mainly of one sex. Over time this will cause a decline in bee numbers. We recommend that the drilled holes should be 100 to 150 mm deep.
Drilling holes that are this deep in a block of hardwood can be a little tricky. Download Aussie Bee's step-by-step guide to making drilled timber blocks for Resin Bees and Leafcutters.
Where should I set up my Bee Hotel?
If you want to have many 'guests' in your Bee Hotel, place it in a garden full of bee-friendly plants. A variety of plants that provide abundant nectar and pollen throughout the year will attract and support a good population of native bees. Good plants include grevilleas, daisies, salvias and lavenders. Leafcutter Bees also need plants with soft leaves for their nesting materials. Good plants include roses, buddleja, duranta, bauhinia and wisteria. Read Aussie Bee's guide to how to make a bee-friendly garden.
Leafcutter bees need to cut small circular and oval shaped pieces from soft leaves to build their nest cells.
Remember that insecticides will kill native bees as well as garden pests. So try to avoid using insecticides in your bee-friendly garden. If you really have to use an insecticide, avoid spraying the blossoms and use them in the very early morning, or late afternoon, when bees are not foraging.
Provide a water supply for the bees. Partly fill a shallow water dish with pebbles so that the bees do not drown in it.
Sites that have good morning sun and protection from strong winds are good for Bee Hotels. If your Bee Hotel has a weather-proof frame or roof, it can be placed out in the garden; if not, place it in a sheltered place such as on a verandah or under the eaves of your house.
Elevate your Bee Hotel on a post to keep it out of the damp and make it easier to watch. Our favourite Bee Hotel is on our window sill and we enjoy watching the bees through our window, as they busily come and go.
NEXT: Part 3. What bees will use my Bee Hotel?
Aussie Bee Guide to Bee Hotels
PART 1. What is a Bee Hotel and how can it help?
PART 2. How do I make a Bee Hotel?
PART 3. What bees will use my Bee Hotel?
PART 4. What other insects will use my Bee Hotel?
PART 5. What should I do about pests and parasites?