How to Make Native Bee Hotels
A native bee hotel is an artificial nesting habitat made specifically for cavity nesting native bees. With widespread land clearing and manicured gardens there's often a shortage of natural nesting materials. It's easy to replicate their requirements in our own backyards.
Over the last couple of years I've made a variety of different Native Bee Hotels for my garden, all with great success and most needing a 'no vacancies' sign at the end of the breeding season.
Making hotels is a fun and easy weekend activity that you can all do and is especially fun to do with your kids or grandchildren. Not only are they simple & cheap to make, they also provide many hours of entertainment watching the busy females darting in & out busily nesting.
Now, don't expect any honey from these hotels! The native bees that use them are purely pollinators only. And the small efforts we can make by providing hotels, plus flowers for their food and not using pesticides; helps to preserve the biodiversity of our endemic fauna and flora (and they help to pollinate our home grown fruit & veggies, extra bonus!).
(ABOVE: Megachile aurifrons utilising an 8mm drilled hole in a blue gum branch)
Here are some photos of hotels in my garden and my tips for creating successful hotels for cavity nesting bees and ground/mud nesting bees.
Constructing a home for cavity nesting solitary bees
Cavity nesting solitary bees normally seek out holes like old wood borer holes or hollow stemmed plants like reeds to make their nests in. To replicate this and thereby create an artificial nesting habitat you need some sort of container or shell that will securely hold your material. This needs to be around 20cm deep and ideally should have a backing to keep it more protected from wind, rain and predators.
Your containers can be repurposed materials like recycled tins, chester drawers, old T.V's, microwaves or computer monitors.
(ABOVE: a Retro TV saved from roadside litter pick up. Glass removed and filled with nesting cavities)
Or you can make frames out of reclaimed timbers. Just ensure you choose materials that have not been treated with chemicals. Composite materials such as hardboard, chipboard or particleboard tend to disintegrate in the rain and are not suitable if placed out in the weather.
(ABOVE: recycled wood frame with drilled Jarrah & Karri wood from our property and bamboo)
Simply fill your container with ‘rooms’ – which can be blocks of wood or small logs in which you have drilled holes into or ready made cavities in bamboo canes, elephant grass, kangaroo paw flower stems, globe artichoke flower stems etc. A variety of solitary bee species will use these cavities as nests to lay their eggs and many will use the hotel together harmoniously. You may have solitary wasps utilise the hotel too. This is great, as they are important predators to pests in your garden.
(ABOVE: a 4 litre recycled tin filled with Elephant grass canes and drilled wood)
Native bees come in all different sizes and each prefer a hole that’s “just right”. Having a large variety of hole sizes will ensure you’re tailoring it to the needs of all the different sized native bees.
Drill holes of varying diameters between 2mm and 12mm, but no bigger. The open ends of these holes should face outwards, and must be smooth, and free of splinters. Don't drill all the way through the wood as the bees tend to avoid holes open front to back, therefore your wood should be around 20cm in depth.
For your drill bits sizes between 2 - 6mm; drill the full bit length of each and for the sizes 7,8,9,10 and 12mm; you can purchase longer auger bits so the holes are 10-15cm in depth.
(ABOVE: recycled plastic drainage pipe cut in half and placed on an angle, then filled with drilled wood)
Other small native bees, like Reed Bees, prefer to dig their own tunnels into soft pithy stemmed plants, therefore fill some of your hotels with old cuttings of lantana, spent raspberry canes, grape vine cuttings, tansy stems, agapanthus stems, garlic flower stems, spent native grass flower stalks, native hibiscus cuttings etc.
(ABOVE: an Op Shop find, filled with elephant grass, spent raspberry canes and rolled bluegum bark)
The hotel should have an overhang at the top to keep rain off, or placed in a protected area, like under an eave or verandah. This hotel below sits under our eaves on the north side and is the most popular hotel in our patch every year.
(ABOVE: recycled hanging basket frames to create a dome, filled with old tins holding drilled wood and elephant grass cuttings. Plus an old hollow bit of wood at the top filled with jerusalem artichoke flower stalks and spent raspberry canes)
Another option is to simply drill holes into a stump of hard wood and place in the garden in a protected area. Place pavers or bricks underneath and a lid on top to protect from moisture. In the photo below, I've just used an upturned saucer with a heavy rock on top to keep it in place.
Constructing a home for ground/mud nesting solitary bees
A larger number of our native bee species actually nest in the ground, like the cute blue banded bees and you can still replicate nesting habitats for them. I think these hotels are most valuable to make in cities and large housing estates where a lot of the suitable habitat has been cleared for development and is now covered in roads, concrete, lawns, gardens and thick mulch.
Choose a container that will securely hold a cob mixture, this one below is made from tins, but you can use anything recycled, eg. PVC pipes, besser blocks. These hotels should be placed close to ground level and protected from harsh summer sun.
Cob Mix: is one part clay to three parts sand mixed together and fill up your container, leaving an inch lip at the top. This gap at the top will create protection from the rain once placed in the garden.
Allow this to partly dry and then use a biro or round stick to push holes into the clay mix. These will be approx. 1cm in diameter and 10cm deep. Space the holes about 5cm apart. Do not overcrowd your hotel, as many bees like to make side tunnels in their nesting holes.
They sometimes prefer to nest in groups, so make a few of these containers and place together in your garden.
Once dried, turn the container on its side and place in the garden in a sheltered position, avoiding full sun. This is a home for the blue banded bees that are one of the few native species capable of 'buzz' pollination and are very good at pollinating tomatoes, chillies, eggplants, capsicums and kiwi fruits, and other plants which require vibration to release pollen.
I have an abundance of ground nesting bee species. My personal experience is that the ground nesting bees in my area have plenty of space and ground to choose from on my property and surrounding bushland, therefore these hotels are not used.
An alternative to making these hotels is to ensure you have some bare patches of dirt in your backyard, that isn't covered in thick mulch, weeds, lawn etc, nor will it be walked over or inundated with water.
Position of your Bee hotel
The bee hotel is best to place where it can receive some early morning sun as the native bees are cold blooded and require the heat of the sun to warm them. Therefore face the nest entrances east to north east.
Position it so it will be sheltered from the hot midday & afternoon sun and from high winds and heavy rain. Eg. close to a building, under eaves or patios or under a shady tree.
Ensure there is no vegetation in front of it obscuring the entrances to the tunnels.
Happy Hotel Making. I'd love to see your creations too - please feel free to share them on my facebook page.
And make sure your follow my facebook and instagram pages to keep up to date with my native bee gardening tips, native bee finds in my patch and bee hotel designs.
Green Tree Blessings x