Have you heard about that new house that went up down the road? It’s wooden, packed full of tubes, and ready for some eggs and mud walls! Of course, I’m talking about a bee house. These exquisite structures exist to house our urban living, solitary bees. Make your own to help these little pollinators in need!
The bees are buzzing about this one! Just like us humans, solitary bees in the city pack their homes in tight to make room for everyone. Bee houses are magical little places that contain tons of larvae from the bees who don’t live in hive communities.
Bee houses are crucial because habitat loss is one of the biggest threats to native bees. As we clear away native species, mow down the dandelions, and rake up leaves, we’re hurting the little guys that we rely on for pollination.
To help, we need to think about how we can provide flowers and nesting habitats for all the solitary bees out there. Similar to my bug hotel, this bee house is designed just for those wandering bees who can’t find their typical empty cavities to lay their eggs.
Let’s help the bees and get started!
Jump ahead to…
What is a Bee House?
Similar to bird houses, bee houses provide a place for bees to rest and nest. These houses are used by solitary bees such as mason, leafcutter, and mining bees. Honeybees live in colonies and not on their own, so you won’t find them in these houses!
Most mason bee houses look like little wooden houses filled to the brim with nesting tubes. These tubes provide places for the bees to hibernate and nest.
As gardeners, we are constantly changing the wild spaces and habitats of bees. By adding a bee house, we help protect them from our garden work and visitors.
Building a bee house reminds you to welcome these little insects into your space and thank the bees for their hard work. I also love to use mine as a wonderful teaching opportunity anytime someone points to it and wonders what the heck that thing is.
How to Make a Bee House
There are a few ways to make a bee house, but all follow the same rules. Here is everything you need to know about creating your own unique home for solitary bees.
A container can be anything from a coffee can to a milk carton. Often, they are permanent structures made out of wood.
When making your first bee house, think about the size. While a huge bee house may look cool, the reality is that it may house too many bees and be too difficult to maintain for a beginner.
The size of the house should also match the surrounding food supply. Do you have enough flowers to support a bee population?
The container should be open in the front and closed in the back. Ideally, it should have an overhang to protect it from the rain and outer elements.
Paint the structure with a waterproof coating to keep out moisture. You can also have fun and paint your boxes to stand out in your garden.
Bee houses are filled with tubes made from natural and recycled materials. Since not all bees use the same materials, it’s a good idea to provide a range of materials and sizes of tubes.
You can make your tubes using rolled-up paper or cardboard or fill the house with paper straws and hollow reeds. Some people also use bamboo but it can retain moisture and is more likely to develop pests and fungus. I have used bamboo reeds in the past with no problems, but you need to keep a careful eye on them.
To make your own tubes, take some thick paper (such as packing paper) and roll it around a dowel. Tape the paper and gently slide the dowel out. Bend one end of the tube and tape it shut so no light passes through. Tubes should be a minimum of 6 inches deep.
Tape your bundle together and insert it into the container. The tubes should be tightly packed, completely filling the container. Insert them so that the overhang protects the tubes but also so that they still receive direct sunlight.
Another option is to use nesting blocks. This is when you drill holes into small pieces of wood. The holes should have various diameters to make up for all the different kinds and sizes of bees. They should range from 1/16-5/8”.
Only use untreated wood in the creation of your bee house. Pine, spruce, and oak are good bee-friendly options.
How to Use a Bee House
In nature, solitary bees like to seek out empty cavities like hollow stems, rock crevices, fallen logs, and more. With the bee house, they will construct a similar nest. First, they gather mud and other materials and carry them back to the nest to create walls known as partitions. Between each wall, the female bee will leave an egg and pollen.
You want to make sure the female bees can easily find the house and that it’s in a good location for the developing larvae. Place your mason bee house somewhere that receives early morning sun since bees are early risers. It should be 4-10 feet off the ground to protect the bees from predators.
Protect the bee house from moisture and rain. Excess moisture leads to cocoons becoming mouldy and the spread of fungi.
How to Attract Bees to the House
The best way to attract bees to your mason bee house is to make your garden and the surrounding area as bee-friendly as possible. This means planting early-season flowers for those early mason bees as well as flowers that bloom well into the fall. Give them as much nourishment as possible.
The bee house will be most active during early to mid-summer with many bees using the house for nesting. Make sure no vegetation blocks the entrance, that it’s getting enough sun, and consider adding a bee bath to the area.
Bees like natural habitats, so try to make your garden a little less polished. Leave the leaves in the fall, allow the lawn to go longer between cuttings, and embrace a little mess in your garden.
How to Maintain a Bee House
Maintaining a bee house is singlehandedly the most important thing you need to do. If you don’t maintain the bee house after building it, it can become a death trap for the bees you’re trying so hard to help!
Certain predators affect solitary bees. Kleptoparasites steal the pollen that the females leave behind for their offspring, leaving none for the larvae. This includes pollen mites, carpet beetles, and the Houdini fly.
Parasites also can enter the cells and feast on the cocoons of the bees. This includes parasitic wasps and chalkbrood fungus. Without management, bee houses can easily build up these pests.
In nature, these bee cavities tend to be more spread out. Human-made homes hold a much higher number of bees living together. With more bees, they become more susceptible to mites and pests which is why it’s so important to step in rather than leave the bees to themselves like they would in their natural habitat.
All the materials should be cleaned out on an annual basis. Between September and November, take down your hotel as the bees will be fully formed by them.
You’re then going to remove the tubes and carefully inspect them to look for parasites. This is known as harvesting the cocoons. You can learn how to harvest and store bees properly over at the David Suzuki Foundation.
Toss out any used tubes and clean the entire structure using soap and water. Soak and scrub and nesting blocks you intend to reuse.
Take out the house in February to March after the last frost. Ideally, hang it in the same spot every year as some bees like to return to the same nesting spot. Replace any discarded tubes with new materials.
Place your collected cocoons outside somewhere close to your home, protected from the elements, and facing the morning sun. Mason bees emerge first and leaf cutter bees hatch in June.
Check on the house every few weeks to make sure everything is going smoothly. To keep out birds like woodpeckers and blue jays, you can also cover the exterior of the house with metal netting. Do not cover the nesting holes as this can obstruct the bees from entering.
Frequently Asked Questions About Bee Houses
Since solitary bees are excellent pollinators, some companies began selling bees to help with commercial pollination. You can actually buy the cocoons of these bees to put in your yard.
While bee populations are declining, it’s better to look at how we can help the current bee population rather than introduce these purchased bees. By looking after the environment and native species, we can help the health of the whole planet.
Yes! Solitary bees need bee houses in urban settings since their natural nesting habitat becomes more difficult to find. To make bee houses the best place possible, you really need to maintain them. If you leave bee houses to their own devices, they can become pest-infested areas and are bad for the bees you’re trying to help.
You’ll know bees are in there when the tubes slowly fill and become packed with mulch and leaf debris. This means there are bee larvae inside!
Make your own bee house rather than a commercial one. Most aren’t made with the proper materials and can harm the bees.
Bee houses need to be cleaned every year. Discard any used or old tubes and replace them with new ones. Reusing tubes can lead to the spread of diseases throughout generations of bees.
Take the house and scrub it down with biodegradable soap and water. Soak and scrub the nesting blocks. You can use a 5% liquid oxygen bleach to help kill fungi and bacteria.
Allow the house to fully dry before placing new materials in. Ideally, you should clean the house in the fall after removing the hibernating bees and let the house sit inside until February-March
Honey bees do not use bee houses. Honey bees are colony bees who live in hives of thousands of bees. Anyone who wants honey bees will need a bee box/hive which is much larger and meant to host a whole colony.
Bee houses are meant for solitary bees like mason and leafcutter species. These guys are actually much more effective at pollinating than honey bees!
While wasps are beneficial predators that keep away bad bugs, they also feast on bee larvae. Placement of the bee house will help keep them away. Too much shade can attract hole-nesting wasps. While you want to provide some afternoon shade, make sure the bee house gets plenty of early morning sun.
Clean your bee house every fall and look for parasites. Keep your cocoons in a garden shed or unheated garage in the winter to keep them away from any potential predators.
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