Build a bee hotel

30-Mar-2015

Bird boxes and hedgehog hibernators are great fun, but here’s a less well-known home for wildlife: a nest for red mason bees.

Unlike the familiar bumblebee, mason bees are solitary. After hatching in spring, the female spends most of her life searching for hollow stems in which to lay her eggs. If you can provide something suitable, she’ll come to you.

To make a nest you’ll need:

  • An untreated wooden plank, at least 10cm (4in) wide;

  • Plenty of hollow stems such as bramble, hogweed, reed or bamboo. Japanese knotweed is a dreadful pest, but its dead stems are easy to gather and cut, and available in a wide range of diameters including the bee’s preferred 3-5mm (18 in); 

  • Saw, drill, screws and secateurs;

  • A mirror fixing to hang the finished nest up.

Next stage

Cut the plank into four to make a rectangular frame. Drill guide holes for the screws (to stop the wood splitting) and assemble the frame. Snip your stems into plank-width lengths, discarding any bent or knobbly ones. It’s a good idea to include some really big stems (cut with a fine saw), even though they’re no use to the bees; they speed up the assembly stage, look attractive and help shelter lacewings and ladybirds over winter.

Lay your frame on a tilted surface and carefully pack it with stems. Only as you add the final few does the whole thing suddenly lock solid.

Next stage

Hang your nest on a sunny wall, sheltered from rain, and wait for the bees to investigate in spring. The female selects a stem and lays an egg inside with a store of pollen for the grub to eat when it hatches. Then she seals up the cell with a plug of mud, and starts again. A stem can end up with several cells. The young bees won’t emerge until next year.

Mason bees are much more effective pollinators than bumble bees, so they’ll help pollinate your fruit and vegetables. Just as importantly they are great fun to watch as they scurry and buzz to fill a nest you put together for the price of a few screws.

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