Ever heard of bee or insect hotels? If you want to help useful insects and like to pick fruit in your garden, you need pollinators in the spring time! There is an easy solution: A bee or insect hotel ensures the much required pollinators are close by, and in return you offer them shelter!
If well equipped, it offers housing for various pollinators like solitary bees, ladybirds, spiders, woodlice, and other insects depending on where you live. Another great benefit of bee or insect hotels is, that their inhabitants generally keep your plants free from pests.
Aphids are tiny insects feed on soft, young stems, branches, buds and fruit. By piercing the plant, they steal its nutrient-rich sap and leave a sick plant behind. You can be recognize them by its deformed flowers, curled or yellowed leaves, or damaged fruit.
The History of Bee or Insect Hotels
The idea of those little ´boutique´ insect hotels originated in the UK. Scientists started to build these ´hotels´ in the 19th century to enhance their studies on the behavior of insects. Thanks to them we have learnt a lot more about these little criters than we would have otherwise!
You´re not alone..
An average-sized garden can hold around 2,000 insects. Most of them do a great job to keep our garden healthy. The sad thing is, we are often not even aware of them!
Keeping your garden healthy is just one of their benefits. They also pollinate plants and play a vital role in the food chain as food for birds. Many of these little criters hibernate and the right bee or insect hotel provides the perfect space for them!
Build or Buy?
Buying a bee or insect hotel is certainly the easier option, although building one is inexpensive, fun and does not require master workmanship or extravagant tools! The choice is yours!
Whether you buy or build, there are a few things you should look out for:
Different materials attract different insects! Make sure that all materials used are completely dry, natural, free of pesticides, varnish and solvents, and have not been pre-treated with wood preservative or impregnation! This applies to buying and building! The reason for these prerequisites speak for themselves. Insects are delicate creatures, we all know how they react when blasted with a squirt of pesticide, having their walls painted with it leads to similar consequences!
To keep the hotel healthy, you need to invest in healthy building materials. That does not mean it will be expensive, to the contrary! With a bit of creativity you can gather all the material you need for building a bee or insect hotel the next time you go for a walk in the woods.
There are no strict designs to build a bee or insect hotel. Wherever creativity takes you is fine, however, there are a few things you should observe:
Build a frame with a closed back wall that is deep enough to hold tubes and whatever material you intend to use as habitations. The back- and side-walls should be wind and water-proof. As actual habitations you can use reeds, hollow perennial stalks, interlocking tiles, pith sticks, paper straws and other natural materials where insects can make their home. Bees like dark edges, so some people burn and char the reeds. Bamboo reeds are not a good material as they don’t breathe. They can cause mold to build up and are more conducive to fungal issues.
You can also use dry tree slices, small logs, or thin branches, brushwood, and even snail shells. Seal hollow materials at one end so the insects can lay their eggs inside. See what insects are attracted to certain materials here. Link
If in doubt, ask..
Insects are not overly demanding but like all living creatures they want to be safe and comfortable. If you are unsure if you can use a certain material, ask yourself:
If you answered yes to all these questions, the material is most likely suitable! Make sure that you seal all hollow materials at one end. Once you have decided which material to use, bundle the individual habitations into sections. Fill the gaps with natural clay, moss or straw, pebbles, bark, or small bundles of brushwood.
Although it may look pretty, please do not paint your bee or insect hotel as paints can be toxic for insects and their brood. If you want to protect it, use a natural beeswax, olive or sunflower oil to keep it natural and not put off any insects.
For those that prefer step by step guidelines to build a bee or insect hotel, there are plenty of instruction guides on the internet. Here are a few: https://www.rspb.org.uk/get-involved/activities/nature-on-your-doorstep/garden-activities/build-a-bug-hotel/
If you prefer to buy a ¨turn-key¨ bee or insect hotel, here are a few options that have the stamp of approval for being safe and suitable:
Birds and other insect-eating animals may look at a Bee or Insect Hotel as ´Take-away Service´! Protect the inhabitants by installing a small meshed chicken wire across the entire front entrance. A detachable frame that clips onto the front for an easy maintenance access could be an simple solution! This allows insects to enter, yet it prevents birds and other small insect-eating animals from killing these precious pollinators!
It´s all about the location! Choose a wind- and rain-protected place with partial sun that is near a lot of flowering plants where they can feed. Place the entrance opening to the east where it gets the first morning sun but is not exposed to intense sunshine during the afternoon.
Mounting your Bee or Insect Hotel
Choose a sturdy ground or hanging place for your bee or insect hotel. It should not be swinging as bees are not particularly good at landing.
Remember that bees need water! Place a small ceramic bird bath on the ground for the bees to drink and for those that use mud to seal up their eggs and need water to mix with dirt,
Toward the end of the season, bring the bee or insect hotel inside to protect bees over the winter and to avoid predators like squirrels or parasitic wasps. The best thing is to place them in an unheated garage or shed that is dark and cool, but not too cold or hot in the winter. Make sure you move the hotel outside again before the temperature rises above freezing and the snow melts. If the temperature inside gets too warm, the eggs might hatch before any food sources are available.
When is the best time to instal a bee or insect hotel?
The most favorable time to instal a bee or insect hotel is around February or March, before the insects awaken from hibernation. By this time the first blossoms will be out, providing the little criters with food.
Don´t expect that the hotel will be occupied right away! Be patient, it can take a while for the guests to arrive. If the bee or insect hotel stays vacant for months, you may have picked the wrong location.
Cleaning your Bee or Insect Hotel
Although bee or insect hotels are low maintenance, they still require some ´housekeeping´. This is important for the health of the insects but also prolongs the life of the hotel itself!
Fungus and mites are prone to spread faster in the many tubes than in a natural environment. To avoid this, do a spring clean after the eggs have hatched. This can be done by simply replacing the tubes.
You will see which tubes need to be replaced or drilled holes in wooden blocks need to be cleaned by checking whether the tunnel is capped. If the tubes are empty, the caps are off but the debris remains. You can clean drilled holes with pipe cleaners, a small straw brush, or by blowing compressed air into the tunnel.
Every couple of years, it is advisable to replace any wooden blocks with fresh ones.
Spiders eat insects. They often spin their webs in the flight path of insects, like the entrance of the hotel, to catch their prey. Cleaning spider nests away can prevent hungry spiders from killing your hotel guests!