How to make a bee hotel
There are many ways to make a suitable bee hotel for your garden, in this blog we'll show you a couple of different ways that you can create a perfect space for solitary bees to live and breed. While we all call them bee hotels, they are in actual fact more of a 'bee nursery' as they are usually used as a safe place for solitary bees to raise their young.
Solitary bees, as their name suggests, are not hanging around in large swarms or in a hive packed with hundreds of bees. For this reason they are often the perfect buzzy guests for our smaller gardens and will do an important pollinating job throughout the year.
You may have seen many elaborate looking bee hotels for sale in garden centres, but these can be quite pricey and, let’s be honest, the bees don't care what it looks like or if it has a cute looking roof. As long as you follow a few simple rules when you make and position your bee hotel then you can have a successful hotel with very little effort. Of course you are free to customise and decorate your own bee hotel to your hearts content!
The essential basics of making a bee hotel.
It should have holes (or really tunnels/tubes) with an inside diameter of between 2mm and 10mm, this will make sure your bee hotel can accommodate guests of all sizes. Ideally, we would like the majority of the holes around 4-5mm with fewer smaller and larger ones.
The wood you use must be untreated - the chemicals used in treated wood such as fence posts could be harmful to your guests.
Place the hotel in a warm and sheltered place, facing as southwards as possible. As an example, in my own garden, our bee hotel faces roughly south east, with a little wind protection from a shed, and that has been fine. It should be positioned off the ground around knee height ideally but anywhere up to waist height will be suitable.
The tunnels inside the hotel must be open at one end and closed at the other, they should be a minimum of 10cm deep, but ideally as deep as you can make them.
Make sure the entrances are smooth with no splinters or sharp edges, bees will not enter them if there is a chance they could damage their wings.
When hanging or placing your bee hotel, it should be secured and angled slightly downwards to stop rain running into the holes.
The simple log hotel.
This is the quickest and easiest way to create a bee hotel, as all you will need are suitable materials and tools. The log hotel is just an untreated log (or just a thick lump of wood) with holes drilled in one end. It can almost be any size or shape as long as you can drill into one end at least 10cm. You will need a suitable drill (preferably an electric one) and a range suitably sized wood drill bits and some coarse sandpaper.
Once your supplies are gathered carefully drill into the wood at one end as deep as you can without coming out of the back; we'd recommend holding the log in a workmate, large vice or some kind of DIY clamp. The drilling patten doesn't really matter, so you can either just drill random holes of different sizes or get creative with a nice pattern.
When you are happy with your holes, get as much sawdust out of the holes as possible, then run sandpaper around the entrances to get rid of any jagged or splintered areas. That's pretty much all there is to it! Then all you need to do is find a spot to keep it, you can either hang it on a fence or place it on a raised flower bed for example.
The bamboo bee house.
This is the type of bee hotel you will commonly see being sold at garden centres and shops. If you want to make your own, they are fairly simple to make for anyone with basic hand tools.
You will need some wood, a plank to make the frame, and something to use as a back board. Of course, exactly how much you need will depend on how big you want to make your hotel. I found a small piece at my local timber yard for the frame that was around 70cm x 1.5cm x 15cm. This turned out to be plenty thick enough to be robust and the 15cm width will allow the tunnels to be that deep, which is great.
For the back I used some thin plywood that I found in the shed that I think was the back of a wardrobe at some point! Be creative and see what you can find, your local B&Q, timber yard or reclamation yard will often have offcuts and scraps of wood that they won't even charge you for.
You will also need some bamboo canes (or similar dried stems) and most garden centres will have these, just make sure you have some that are large enough internally for bees to get inside.
First cut your plank into 4 pieces to make the frame. To join the 4 pieces into a frame I used small wood screws, first carefully drilling pilot holes so the wood didn't split. If you prefer you could glue the frame together- as long the glue is animal safe once dried. Then I attached the plywood back using little tacks. It's important to put a back on it to seal the ends of the hollow canes we'll be adding next. I left a little extra backboard at the top and bottom so I can screw it to a fence post.
You should have what is essentially a shallow box, with one open side. Next with a small saw, cut lengths of bamboo to the depth of your hotel (in my case this was 15cm) and start packing, them in. I would recommend using the straightest pieces you have and then just keep going until they are tightly wedged in, using some small bits to help fill the caps. Clean up any rough bamboo ends with some sandpaper. You can also add a roof if you prefer by screwing 2 pieces of wood to the top of the bee hotel to make a triangle shape. This triangle shape can then be filled with more tubes, bamboo canes or pine cones.
You can either nail or screw it to a fence/fence post, it doesn't really matter how you do this as long as it is secure, there are all sorts of metal brackets at DIY/Hardware stores that we can utilize if you don't have anything suitable. As before make sure it is slightly angled so rain doesn't run into the holes.
You may see bees visiting at any time up until around late September, but keep an eye out for holes that have been sealed up with leaves or mud. That is a sure sign that bees are using your hotel to raise the next generation of bees. You may even see the young bees emerging if you are lucky!