Making a bee hotel will encourage `solitary bees` into your garden to pollinate your flowers, fruit and veg. Solitary bees are much more effective pollinators than bumble bees. They are harmless, non aggressive and do not swarm. They will only attempt to sting if threatened and even then the stings are not painful like honeybees. There are hundreds of species of solitary bees which do not build honeycombs but nest in small tunnels or holes in the ground.
Species that are commonly seen in gardens, such as Mason Bees, nest in tubes or tunnels. They are fascinating to watch as they buzz about making their nests, sometimes mimicking the social behaviour of bumblebees. Many solitary bees are very small and all collect nectar and pollen from flowers. Gardeners can easily encourage these bees in by providing nest sites. Drilling holes in blocks of wood or creating a beautiful bamboo box will give these valuable insects a cosy home.
To make a nest all you need is an untreated wooden box with a sloping roof to deflect the rain. Fill the box with natural materials which have small entry holes for the bees to lay their eggs in. With a few nectar rich flowers such as dahlia or lavender, bees will soon be attracted to your garden.
Fix the box to a fence or wall in a sunny position and fill the box with hollow stems. Dried bamboo, hogweed or bramble canes make ideal natural cells. Rolled up reed screens are good for filling up space and some small species will nest in these holes. These not only look great in your garden but are excellent homes for many insect species.
Many solitary bees nest in dead herbaceous stems. The female selects a stem and lays her eggs inside, storing pollen for the grub to eat when it hatches and seals the stem with mud or leaf cuttings. The larva develops and pupates spending the next 11 months in a dormant state until they are ready to emerge as adult bees the following spring.
Bee hotels should be kept dry and in a cool protected place throughout winter such as a shed or porch and replaced back out in march. It is very important to keep the cells dry as the bee larvae can succumb to fungus moulds if left outside in the open during winter.
It is necessary to clean out the bee hotel every year, with new materials installed each year for the bees to return to. Maintenance is necessary otherwise your bee hotel can become infested with parasites and fungus endangering the health of the colony. After the adult bees have emerged, any stems still walled-up should be removed and any cells containing larvae of parasites should also be removed.
Bee hotels can be made out of various other materials. A simple untreated block of wood, with varying size holes drilled into it, attached to a fence post. These must also be protected from rain by attaching a sloping roof or placing in a sheltered but sunny position. Equally household air-bricks can be used in the same way.
Don’t forget to provide your little bees with lots of nutritious plants. Marigolds are loved by many insects significant to the environment. Runner beans and peas provide high protein pollen and borage flowers have a constant supply of nectar. Create a small meadow of wildflowers and weeds like dandelion, clover and buddleja. These can all be grown in pots if your garden is small or not suitable for a wildflower meadow. Then place your bee hotel nearby so they don’t have far to go to collect the much needed pollen. Sit back and enjoy your fuzzy buzzy garden friends collect nectar for future bee generations.
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