A couple of years ago we sowed wildflower seeds to help pollinators around our garden. See the Mission Update here. This year we set out to create a home for these insects. Most of the European pollinator species are solitary bees. These harmless insects are crucial for pollinating domestic and wild crops but unlike honey bees they are not social and don’t live in large colonies. Most of them nest in the ground or in hollow reeds or twigs as well as holes in wood. The female typically creates a nest for an egg along with some provisions for the resulting larva, then seals it off. The emerging young bees will then chew their way out through the seal to start their life and help us pollinate our plants.
Any holes that are at least a few cm long and 2-10 mm wide are suitable for nesting for these insects. Most of the materials we used were found around the house. The only cost the project incurred was purchasing bamboo sticks but even this wouldn’t be essential (more of this in a little bit).
To start with, we created a solid structure with a shelf that would hold the nesting material. Most of this structural work was done by an adult but where possible children helped too.
Once the structure was finished and in place, we started looking for things to fill the cavity, i.e. to create the rooms in the hotel. An adult sawed branches of various thickness from a fallen tree while the children, using secateurs were cutting thinner twigs from the same tree. We acquired a handful of wooden beam pieces as well. (These turned out to be a God send because sawing so many branches with a hand saw took forever!) The children collected pine cones, nut shells and some dry plant materials like reed, which naturally had long holes in them. We also found in our garden an old brick that had three large holes through it.
When we had collected all the filling material we found some old, unused toys that we decided to fill with the bamboo sticks and other thin twigs, chopped to size. We did the same with the holes on the brick. Filling these items was a lovely exercise for the children but if these materials are not to hand then drilling holes in thicker branches would do the job perfectly well too. In our case we had both so an adult set out to drill holes in the thicker branches and the beam pieces. The holes varied in size to cater for smaller and larger bees alike.
Once we were done with all this preparation, we started filling the hotel. We put the beam pieces at the bottom, which provided a sturdy base. We started piling the thicker and thinner branches, the reed and the brick on top of these, until we filled the bottom part of the hotel, up to the shelf.
We split the top shelf into two parts. On one side we put the bamboo filled toys and on the other we put the cones and shells (along with an old bird feeder).
Finally, when everything was in place, to provide the bees with food we planted some wildflower seeds in a pot (we used a recent birthday card that had embedded seeds in it). We also dug half a cherry tomato into each pair of old welly boots that had holes in them. We also placed another old pair of welly boots from two years ago on top of the bee hotel. They have some plants in them that we assume are the offspring of the wild flowers we had sowed. To be sure that the bees have food around the hotel until these plants flower we placed a flowering pollinator friendly plant on top of the construction too. Finally we created an ‘insect safe’ water bowl by placing pebbles in a saucer and filling it with water. Bug hotel complete!
This project lasted for a few weeks and while working on it, the children became much more attentive to bees around the garden and also to flowers that are growing in our (uncut) lawn. We can’t wait for the bees to occupy the tubes so we can observe them close up in our garden.