Introduction: From (unused) Birdhouse to Insect Hotel

At home we love to have all kinds of animals in the garden. Unfortunately, not every animal wants to be in the garden. In this case we had a small birdhouse mean for the great tit (Parus major). Unfortunately they did not really agree on the hanging location and it has gone unused for about 2 years now.

We did however notice that some solitary bees were all too keen to use small holes in the wall to make their nests in.

Solitary bee's are totally harmless, unlike honeybees, bumblebees etc they lack the ability or hardly sting. And they still provide some much needed pollination.

To expand on this we decided to give our birdhouse a new use following a few simple steps.

Step 1: Materials & Tools

To create your very own insect hotel you will need the following materials:

  • A birdhouse
  • Pieces of wood, you want too look for hardwood like Oak, Ash and even apple will do. The harder the better.
  • Pinecones, any size you can fit into your birdhouse, keep in mind that you will only use about a third of the space for this.
  • Dried tube/straw like plant material. In this case I decided to use fresh Fennel stems (which we had ample of) and some bamboo, but you can use most types of plants that have hollow stems like reeds (Phragmites), blackberry (Rubus), Anthriscus sylvestris and Nettles (Urtica)

Additionally you will need the following tools:

  • a handsaw
  • a fine saw like a figure saw (to cut through bamboo)
  • a sharp knife (For any green stuff)
  • a hammer
  • some nails, size depending on the size of the wood used in the birdhouse
  • Drill
  • Wood drills (Preferably sizes 3mm tot 8 mm, 2,9,10mm are optional.
  • sandpaper

Step 2: Step 2: Cutting Everything Down to Size

Apologies for the missing text here.

Now you want to cut down the "door", the wood you gathered and the small organic tubes. Use a ruler to make a small line with a pencil or marker and use a handsaw to shorten the door, and the pieces of wood as depicted. Don't worry if the edges end up slightly frayed, the door you can just turn around to face the smooth edge outwards. Same goes for the wood but it's more esthetics. As long as the drill holes you will be drilling are smooth.

Note that when cutting the bamboo and the fennel stems, you have to keep an eye out for the knots on the stems, these usually are completely solid and will block the tube. Make sure you have at least 2 to 3 cm facing outwards. Smaller will usually not be used. To cut Bamboo I would recommend a sharp but fine saw. The fennel can easily be done with a sharp knife. When cutting it really isn't about getting all the tubes lined up perfectly, some variation is bad, it just might not be as smooth as some people would like to see.

When you don't have the right saw you can use a sharp pair of shears. Press the shear slightly onto the bamboo and twist is 360 degrees around (Creating a cut around the outer layer as you go), much as you would do when cutting a copper pipe. After you made the 360 you can press down the shears to snap off the bamboo. If the bamboo still splinters you might not have applied enough pressure in the initial 360 cut.

Step 3: Step 3: Making the Levels

However you want your insect hotel leveled, it's up to you. In this case I just picked a height I fancied for the level and used 4, 3cm nails to fix it to the sides. As the piece of wood was slightly curved and thin this took some practice. Make sure the nails you use are stainless steel or otherwise treated so they don't start to rust.

Place the pieces of wood you previously cut in the chamber you have now made. In my case the pieces of wood were together almost the exact width of the birdhouse, snugly fitting in. This pretty much removed the immediate need to use nails or screws to attach them.

If you use wood that ends up not being the perfect size you may want to use small nails or glue to fix them to the back. If you end up using nails, keep in mind you will have to drill into the wood later on.

Step 4: Step 4: Drilling

The pieces of wood you have cut to size will now have to get some holes in them.

You will want to use proper drill bits that create clean holes. As I mentioned before you will want to use the sizes 3-8mm diameter, 2, 9 and 10 mm are optional. Most known species will use the first sizes. Other species might also use the other ones. I'd suggest including a few when you have the space for them. Get a few of each to increase the amount of species that might be able to use them.

Make sure you drill on top of the year rings, this will improve the chances of getting clean holes. Also as mentioned before, the harder the wood the better. Poplar and Birch are probably not your best bet as they will probably get rougher because of moisture and weather influences.

Should the holes be slightly too rough you can always use some fine sandpaper to even it out.

Step 5: Step 5: Fitting It Together and Putting It Up to the Wall

All whats left now is adding your cut tubes and pine cones to the whole and putting it out on a sunny wall.

As I mentioned before, make sure the holes in the tubes are about 2-3cm. I used nothing to fix the tubes. I just used some slight pressure to jam them in so they would keep each other in place. Same goes for the pine cones I put in the bottom. These will generally be used by creatures like ladybugs in winter. If you are unsure if the pinecones will stay in place you might want to opt for using a steel wire or grate to keep them in place.

Make sure your insect hotel gets a sunny place as most species of solitary bee etc prefer sunny walls.

Important: since I used minimal amounts of nails etc to fix everything in place, stuff might come loose as it hangs outside. Especially the freshly cut material may dry in and come lose, if this happens you can simply try to add more material jamming it (gently if the hotel is occupied naturally) in.

After it has been hanging a while, you might notice not every material being in use. (Used holes will generally get covered with some dirt like material) If there is a clear reason why (in my case the fennel might have a strong smell and the Chestnut wood being too soft and fraying easily) you can simply try switching them out for different types of material that do work.

Enjoy!

Just a note: "variety is the spice of life" if you have the space, use many different materials. Increasing the odds of some very happy occupants.

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