We all know that bees are important for pollination in our gardens but you might not realize how easy it is to provide bees with a home. I’m not talking about a hive full of honeybees, rather something on a slightly smaller scale.
Solitary bees like the Mason and Leaf Cutters are great garden pollinators and its easy to provide some accommodation for them which will not only attract them to your garden but it should also look nice too.
They are given the term ‘solitary’ because they make individual nest cells for their larvae, and don’t form part of a hive. Instead they like to nest in small holes in the ground, the stems of dead plants or tunnels made in wood by other insects such as beetles. You may also see some bees making their nests in soft patches of mortar on your house.
These solitary bees are great garden companions as they don’t sting and its easy to make an attractive home such as a bee box to go on your wall or fence. The box shown here is about 7 inches square and is filled with pieces of bamboo cane, all the same length but of varying diameters. There are various types of solitary bees and they prefer different sizes of tunnels so having a little variety will mean you cater for all tastes. The range of hole sizes in the canes should be roughly between 2-10mm to give you a rough idea.
The bee box should be positioned so that it is South/South-East facing and if possible protected from the elements a little. The roof on mine over hangs by a centimeter or so but I’ll probably extend this further on the next one I make to ensure its even more water tight.
The entrances should be easy to get to so there shouldn’t be any vegetation directly in front or the bees won’t use it. If you are using bamboo and some of your tubes crack over time, replace these as bees won’t use any that are split along their length. You can purchase cardboard bee tubes instead of making your own, just do a search on the web and you will find a supplier.
Another great and even simpler way to make a home for these solitary bees is to just drill a number of holes in pieces of wood. You need to use un-treated timber so new fence posts won’t work but any piece of wood that is around 7 inches long or more will be perfect. You might need a longer than normal drill bit to make the tunnels though and if you go this route then use 2/3 different sized drill bits so you can again cater for the various types of solitary bees.
Make sure you knock out any sawdust from the holes and don’t leave splintered entrances as the bees don’t like these. Running over the holes with a counter sink drill bit is the best way to smooth off the entrances.
Our local rubbish dump lets you have the odd bit of timber from their recycling bin so that might be a good source if you don’t have anything lying around, you don’t need much.
Its great fun seeing bees start to use their fancy new accommodation. It might take a while for them to get going but once they do, they will come back for many years to come as they often re-use their nest sites.
Mason bees will often make their nests earlier in the summer, you will see them going in and out, busy constructing a series of cells in their tunnel. Each cell will contain a block of pollen that they have collected from your garden. They then lay an egg, and finally wall up the tunnel entrance with mud.
Later in the summer, it’s the turn of the Leaf Cutter bee. You can easily see the difference between the tunnels in this photo, you can clearly see the freshly chopped leaves used by the leaf cutter to seal their tunnel entrances.
This photo was taken in early July.
By mid-September, the bees will have finished building their nests and you will then have to wait until the following April to see the young bees make their way out of the nests to start the cycle again.
If it’s a particularly wet winter and there is a danger of the rain driving in and opening up the tube entrances, you can move the tubes or whole box into an outdoor shed for the winter months. This just protects it from the elements and you can then replace it come Feb/March. Don’t keep it anywhere heated, they need to experience normal seasonal temperatures.
There are lots more sources of info on the internet and you can find bee boxes being sold at many garden centre’s but its so easy to make them yourself that I hope this article inspires you to give it a try.