Introduction: Make a Brilliant Bee Hotel (from Scraps)
Bee hotels have become a bandwagon with every shop imaginable selling them... but bee hotels when they're brilliant make a massive difference to declining bee populations and brilliant bee hotels don't have to be bought. Brilliant bee hotels can be homemade from scraps you may have lying around your house and garden!
We have designed this bee hotel based on our research into what makes a bee hotel brilliant for the bees that rely on them. In the absence of a global standard of brilliance we thought we'd create our own guidelines and this bee hotel meets all of the criteria.
So what materials are you going to need?
- a scrap 2 litre plastic bottle with parallel sides
- scrap bamboo to be cut into 15cm lengths (with 6mm - 11mm holes)
- a scrap piece of thick or corrugated cardboard
- scrap plastic sheet... an old tarpaulin or some packaging plastic at least 20cm wide and long enough to wrap your bottle 1 1/2 times
- 60cm of garden string
- three screws
What tools will you need?
- a ruler or tape measure
- a pen (one that can draw on the bottle would be ideal)
- something to make holes in the plastic (a punch or even scissors)
- a chunky sewing needle
- a screwdriver to fit your screws
Step 1: Watch Our 'how To' Video
Step 2: Getting Your Water Bottle Ready for Action
Clean and dry your 2 litre bottle (the drying bit might be easier once you've cut it down.
Measure 20cm from the bottom of the bottle and draw a line to guide your cutting using a pen that will draw on plastic. We used a Sharpie but there are options. If you don't have a pen you could wrap a piece of masking tape or non-transparent tape to give yourself a cutting line.
Now this is the bit to do with caution... cutting the bottle around the 20cm line. We made a hole first using the sharp end of the scissors before throwing ourselves into cutting to top half from the bottom half of the bottle.
Once your bottle is cut in two... place the top to one side for recycling (or another project... they make great funnels) and take a piece of thick or corrugated card. Place the bottom of your bottle, place it on the card and draw around it so that you have a circle on your card that's a similar diameter to your bottle.
Now back to the scissors to cut this out, though remember it need to fit inside your bottle and so cut it slightly inside the drawn line.
Once it is cut out... drop it into the bottom of the your cut down bottle where it should rest on the bottom.
Step 3: Getting Your Solitary Bee Nesting Ready
Now for the nesting tubes!
These can be made by cutting down old garden bamboo canes. Though the important thing to consider here is creating a nice clean cut... solitary bees want their nesting tubes to be neat and tidy. Cut your bamboo lengths down to individual lengths of 15cm.
Lay your cut down bottle on its side, so that the bamboo nesting tubes collect at the bottom and place most of the bamboo into the cut down bottle.
When the bottle is near full, stand it upright in the table to insert the final pieces of bamboo. The key here is using enough bamboo so that they wedge in and don't fall out if turned upside down. Be brave and test this out... sometimes they're not as wedged as first thought.
The cardboard disc that you cut should be sitting in the bottom throughout this process and once complete it should form a back to your nesting tubes.
Step 4: Wrap Your Bottle Ready for Hanging
Now the final big step before installing your bee hotel requires an old scrap sheet of plastic... an old tarpaulin is great but we have also used thick plastic wrap that something has been delivered in before. The key things about this plastic is that it is tough, 20cm wide and long enough to wrap one and a half times around our bottle.
Cut it to a width of 20cm if it isn't already and wrap the plastic around your bottle one and a half times to guage where you need to cut it to make it the correct length.
Now lay the plastic out on a surface, put the bottle in the middle and bring the two ends of the plastic together around the bottle. Fold the end over, still together in one direction or the other and peg them together so that they stand proud above the cylinder of the bottle. The video shows this and may make this step easier to grasp.
Remove the bottle from the plastic jacket it's swapped in without disturbing the pegs and take your needle and string. The next step is to sew a basic line of stitches between the two pegs, remembering to secure the string so that it won't unravel when you're done.
Once sewn reinsert your bottle so that it is again wrapped in the plastic jacket.
Now we arrive at the final step before installing your bee hotel. You need to make three holes, evenly spaces across the plastic that sits proud above the cylinder of your bee hotel (above the stitching). These holes could be made with a punch, a knife or even the scissors you used earlier depending on what you have and the thickness of the plastic. These holes will be suspending the bee hotel when you install it by screwing hooks or screws through the holes and into a secure vertical surface like a wall or fence.
Step 5: Install Your Brilliant Bee Hotel
Getting your bee hotel installed well is the most important step if you want to see it used. Secure your bee hotel with screws of hooks through all three holes in the bee hotels plastic jacket.
These tips will increase your chances of your bee hotel being used:
- South facing – your bee hotel is going to host a solitary bee’s eggs and be the nursery for a solitary bee’s young before they leave the nest. The temperature of the spot you’re offering a solitary bee is important. South facing spots will get the warmth of the sun.
- 1 metre + above the ground – entrusting a bee hotel with your young is a big thing for a solitary bee and so ensuring it’s safe from predators is vital. Installing your hotel in a spot at least a metre above the ground will keep your bee hotel out of reach of predators.
- Secure so it won’t swing – before a solitary bee leaves its eggs it stores up a tiny mountain of pollen for its young to feed on when they hatch. If your bee hotel moves in the wind then the egg may get separated from this important first feed.
Step 6: What Makes a Bee Hotel Brilliant?
These features make a bee hotel brilliant. There are loads of good bee hotels that have shorter tubes that aren’t replaceable… these features aren’t essential.
- Nesting tubes 150mm long – solitary bees tend to lay several eggs in one nesting tube, starting with female eggs and finishing with a male egg closest to the open end. Longer nesting tubes allows a bee to lay more offspring, positively impacting that species population in an area. 150mm tubes aren’t essential. There are lots of great bee hotels with short nesting tubes out there. Longer tubes will have a greater positive impact on your local solitary bee populations.
- Tidy nesting tube ends – solitary bees look for tidy nesting tubes and so ensure these are cut cleanly. Some bees will tidy the end of tubes themselves but starting with clean and tidy tubes will increase the chances of your bee hotel being used.
- Sheltered nesting tubes – the health of the offspring of the solitary bees that use your hotel is of fundamental importance. If a bee hotel holds fills up with the rain that falls on it, or the tubes aren’t offered some shelter from a downpour by the outer casing of a bee hotel then the offspring may not make it through to fledge the nest or your local solitary bees may not use your bee hotel.
- Replaceable nesting tubes – this is not essential however solitary bees will only use a nesting tube once and so if you’re keen to see your bee hotel supporting solitary bee populations year on year then it is worth replacing previously used tubes during the winter when you can clearly see which tubes are currently occupied. There has also been some research that show’s previously used nesting tubes could spread disease.
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