Earth day is tomorrow, Wednesday, April 22nd. I was hoping to do this activity with you in the library to celebrate. I sure miss creating and exploring with you. Fortunately, I can still share this activity and I can’t wait to hear how it turns out for you.
Today we are going to make Bee Hotels!
Bees are very important pollinators in our ecosystem. There has been a decline in bee counts over the years. This is due to several factors including habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and disease. So let’s help these pollinators out by building them a home to nest in.
If bees are not your thing, please jump down to the bottom to check out some resources on helping other pollinators like butterflies.
The type of bees that will be attracted to these hotels are called mason bees.
Let’s learn a little about the mason bee:
- They are great pollinators. They hold the pollen on their abdomen.
- Mason bees are solitary bees. Unlike bumble bees and honey bees, solitary bees do not nest in colonies. They do not live in hives, make honey, build honeycombs, or swarm.
- Solitary bees make individual nest cells for their eggs. They will use mud to make divisions within each tube. Watch the video below to see this in action!
- The female bee will nest in tunnels, often by finding a hollow stem or beetle burrow where she builds her nest.
- Solitary bees are harmless and not aggressive. They rarely, if ever, sting unless trodden on or squashed between your fingers. They do not have painful stings like honeybees.
- They usually live for about a year, although humans only see the active adult stage, which lasts about three to six weeks. These insects spend the other months hidden in a nest, growing through the egg, larval, and pupal stages.
This video is from a PBS station in San Francisco. It shows how the blue orchard mason bee nesting and life cycle. This bee is similar to the kinds of solitary bees in our area.
Here is what you will need to make your own bee hotel.
- Empty, clean aluminum can
- Paper bag (or paper straws if you have them)
- Wire or string to hang your hotel
We will be using a paper bag to make paper straws that fill the empty can. Then you will be able to hang the can in your garden.
- Measure the length of your can so you know how long to make your paper strips.
- Cut strips of paper from the bag that are slightly shorter than your can. This way they will be slightly protected from getting wet in the rain. My can was just over 4 inches long. I cut my strips right at 4 inches.
- Wrap the paper strips around a pencil or other cylindrical object. I took pieces of my 4 inch strips that would wrap around the pencil 2-3 times (they varied from 3-5 inches wide). Give it a good squeeze as you pull off the pencil to help it keep shape.
- Vary the size of the straw openings. Different varieties of solitary bees can and will share the same bee hotel. It also serves as landmarks for the female bee to find their hole.
- I had to use a small piece of tape on some of my tubes to keep them from being too wide.
- Place your straws in the can until it is full.
- Use the wire or string to attach your bee hotel to a good spot in your garden. I made several loops around the can in multiple places with the wire.
- Enjoy watching the bees use the hotel you made.
Here is my bee hotel in it’s home. I think I am going to make a second one and place it near the vegetable garden.
y bee hotel in it’s home. I think I am going to make a second one and place it near the vegetable garden.
Tips for placing your bee hotel in the garden:
- Hang in full sun in a south or southeast facing location.
- Hang at least 3 feet above the ground
- Secure it to a post or wall. Try to prevent it from swaying in the wind.
- Keep as dry as possible. This prevents the paper from getting moldy.
Maintenance of your bee hotel:
There is a little bit of care involved in having a bee hotel. Proper care will help discourage disease and mites.
- In late fall, around October, you will want to move the bee hotel into an unheated garage or shed to spend the winter. Make sure it is a dry location
- Place your bee hotel back out early spring, around March, in time for the new bees to emerge.
- Once the new bees have emerged, replace the straws with new straw material. You will know the bees have emerged when they have broken through the mud covering on the end of the staw
- I have heard a good suggestion about making a second bee hotel and placing it right next to this one in the spring. Then once the bees emerge, you have time to do the clean up and the new bees already have a home to go to!
- “Supporting Native Bees: Our Essential Pollinators” from UW-Extension Office
- UW Madison Gratton Lab in the Department of Entomology
- Wisconsin Pollinators: Bees, Butterflies, and Their Conservation
- Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has lots of information on Native Bees and Pollinator Conservation
Happy Bee Hotel Making!