How to make a bee ho­tel

Alberta Gardener Magazine - - Gardening with Kids -

bug. The most com­mon species at­tracted by these homes are red ma­son bees, leaf­cut­ter bees, and the blue or­chard bee, Os­mia lig­naria. These homes can be a great op­por­tu­nity for chil­dren to learn about the dif­fer­ent kinds of bees. Even adults may have a hard time rec­og­niz­ing some species as they can be green, blue or brown and not the tra­di­tional black and yel­low striped va­ri­eties. Soli­tary wasps are help­ful gar­den preda­tors that may also move in, they will fill their cells with paral­ysed live prey for their young. These species of bees and wasps are not as likely to sting, mak­ing them fun for chil­dren to ob­serve.

First, de­cide on your de­sign. What el­e­ments do you want to in­clude — wood blocks or logs, hol­low stems and bam­boo, or smaller branches tied in bun­dles? Are you go­ing to cover the front with mesh to keep preda­tors out, or in­clude some mud for the ma­son bees to use? Do you want to de­velop a large ho­tel with mul­ti­ple nest­ing op­tions or a sim­ple one for only a few ten­ants?

Once you’ve de­cided, it’s time to start drilling. Us­ing a va­ri­ety of drill bit sizes will al­low for dif­fer­ent species to set up their nests. Smaller holes should be drilled to a depth of three to four inches while larger holes should be five to six inches. Al­low at least a half inch of space be­tween holes and en­sure that none of the holes exit the back of the wood; this only cre­ates a wind tun­nel.

Use sand­pa­per to smooth out the en­trance if nec­es­sary and check that the en­tire hole is smooth. Splin­ters will dam­age the in­sect’s del­i­cate wings. You can also drill holes through bun­dles of small twigs and bind them to­gether or use bam­boo or other hol­low stems as long as one end re­mains closed. Cut all stems to a length of ap­prox­i­mately eight inches. A va­ri­ety of stems from herba­ceous plants such as rasp­ber­ries, bram­bles and el­der can be used. These should be bun­dled and placed in an up­right po­si­tion in the ho­tel with shel­ter from above.

Now that you have all of your holes drilled you need to cre­ate the ho­tel struc­ture. This re­quires two solid sides and a back. You will also need to add a roof that over­hangs the struc­ture on an an­gle to block out rain. Kids can paint the blocks if they use acrylic or wa­ter based paints which do not have an of­fen­sive odour.

Fin­ished struc­tures need to be placed in full sun, fac­ing south or east at a min­i­mum of three feet to no more than eight feet high. Struc­tures can be free stand­ing or hung along a fence, but should be fixed in place with no sway. You can grease the poles to help keep ants and spi­ders out.

If you are go­ing to build or set up a bee ho­tel be pre­pared for the up­keep.

The nest should be kept in a cool, dry place over the win­ter months. An un­heated garage, shed, porch or car­port will do. It is the wet that will harm the young bees not the cold, so leave them out­doors, just move them to a shel­tered lo­ca­tion. Rain and snow can dis­solve the mud walls caus­ing rot and death of the lar­vae. Bring the nests back out­side in March and have kids keep tabs on when the in­sects hatch. Bees will be­gin emerg­ing by April. Re­move any cells that have re­mained walled up from the pre­vi­ous year at the end of the sum­mer and de­stroy them. Blocks should be re­placed ev­ery two years af­ter the bees have emerged in the sum­mer. Bam­boo and herba­ceous stems should be re­placed yearly.

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