This instrucable isn't just for helping bees, it's for helping all native pollinators in your area.
Unless you've been living under a rock (which would make a nice addition to any bee hotel or, as I like to call them, "Pollinator Palace"), you know that bees are in trouble... there's been a drastic decline in bee population the world over in recent years. There's many, MANY reasons for the decline but, in my opinion, the root of it all is humans.
There's many ways we can help our little friends, including planting native flowers, leaving rotting stumps and logs on your property for these guys to live in, or else take a larger stand and write to your government official asking for stricter laws agains harmful pesticides. A lot of people will tell you beekeeping is a great way to help, and it's true, but beekeeping is very often mostly about raising / keeping bees so humans can harvest their honey, wax and other goodies... And although bees are great pollinators, most of the bees that humans "keep" are not native to where they're kept nor are they 100% natural (that is to say, they've been bred based on desirable characteristics by beekeepers.) If you simply create a habitat for the bees to thrive in, they'll come, regardless of you're "keeping" them.
In this intractable, I'll walk you through a dead simple way to help pollinators by creating a safe and fun home for them to enjoy. In the end (depending on where you live), you can expect that your work will provide a home for a wide range of beneficial insects including bumble bees, solitary bees, moths, beetles and more.
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Step 1: Bill of Materials
- Pallets / Skid
- Hammer and nails (and then remove the nails leaving a hole)
Don't fuss over providing all these things, get creative... Nature will find a way to make use out of what you provide it... you can go as big or small as you like!
That being said, you can likely find most of these things over time if you keep your eyes open.
SKIDS: I live in downtown Toronto and walk my dog past discarded pallets / skids every day. In 1 week I managed to collect the 9 that would eventually make up the base of this project. Apparently home depot has a lot you can ask for (call ahead, as I haven't tried this and not sure how Home Depot will feel about you driving up and taking their stuff.)
BRICKS: Additionally, Toronto also boasts a lot of lakeshore that was made with the debris of demolished buildings, so there's lots of free bricks there if you're up for it... and, as long as your walking the lakeshore, keep your eye out for lumber that's washed up: free wood is free wood, and bugs don't care how much you paid for it!
BAMBOO: Check out your city's "Chinatown." I was able to get more than enough bamboo for pocket change... Also, test out your negotiation skills while you're there! Win-win!!
WOOD: If you're in the burbs, you can likely find wood at any wooded park... Just look for big branches that fell, or downed trees... A bow-saw makes easy work of large pieces. If you're in the city, again, this will be very easy for you... just walk around, people are always throwing out good stuff. Or, drive to the country... I'd ask that you don't cut down anything alive, it defeats the entire purpose of what we're trying to do here... If you can't find good natural wood, just wait, it'll turn up.
All the pictures of "stuff" in this section were taken in the span for 10 minutes walkthrough through Toronto. I suppose it's bitter sweet... bitter that the city is so wasteful, but sweet that there's so much opportunity to get free stuff!
Step 2: Prep
There isn't a lot of prep, to be honest...
- Cut your wood / branches into manageable sizes
- Drill some holes in your wood. I drilled random sized holes to a maximum of 1/2" all over the wood.
- If needed, chop your wood into sizes that'll allow them to fit into your skids. You can do this before or after drilling the holes but its probably smarter to do it before...
- Also, cut the bamboo in such a way so there's a deep hole for the solitary bees to crawl into... And try to position them so there's a bit of cover over the entrance so rain water can't drip in.
Step 3: Construction
This is pretty straightforward but there's a few things you'll want to think about.
- This stuff might be heavy and awkward to carry/position. Make sure you're able to lift things properly without suffering injury. Ask someone for help if you're unsure. Seriously, no one wants to get hurt!
- Wear some gloves, long sleeves, jeans and boots. These skids likely have nails and slivers just waiting to poke you.
- Stack the skids in their final position which can be anywhere you like. Considering how much cover they'll provide insects anyway, they can be in direct sunlight or shade... whatever tickles your fancy. You might want to position the "front" of your bee hotel so it does get some direct sunlight. In fact, if you're up for it, the Summer Solstice is coming up (June 21st, 2018.) Why not use that day to position your bee hotel perfectly so the sun rises directly above it! I arranged my pallets from largest (bottom) to smallest (top.) Try to position the skids so they're oriented the same way, but that's just for aesthetics which only humans care about... but it'll probably make stuffing it with stuff easier for you.
- Load all the gaps in your skid tower with stuff! I started with:
- Level 1 (bottom): Bricks
- Level 2: Hay
- Level 3: Driftwood, off cuts, broken pieces of wood, old farming junk I found
- Level 4: Wood with holes I drilled in them (both sides of the wood)
- Level 5: More bricks / ceramic pieces with grass and weeds stuffed in the gaps. I also shoved bamboo in any place they would fit
- Level 6: Rocks with moss, more old wood and other organics.
- Level 7: More bricks with holes and ceramic pieces that wouldn't fit below... and more grass/weeds.
- Level 8: More hay in the middle and weeds/leaves/grass on the outside
- Level 9: More wood with holes in them
- Level 10 (top): I just put some extra logs on top and an old cast iron lighthouse I found.
Step 4: Maintenance
You should keep an eye on the hay and replace it every couple years.
The entire structure might need to be replaced every five years or so, but I'm sure you can gauge. :)
Step 5: Conclusion
Go nuts filling in gaps with whatever you want. Only one rule: Keep it as natural as possible.
Aside from that, let nature do its thing... I casually put mine together over the course of 24 hours and, between breaks, moths, beetles and other little guys had already moved in.
In the end, we can each do a little bit to help the little ones who we depend on and give a little back to the world that we constantly take so much from. Thinking about it from a bug's perspective, it takes less than one day for a human to build this super complex that these insects will spend their whole lives in. Make your bee hotel and then sit back and watch it come alive... Why not take notes on what you see in there? Learn about the bugs and see what other wildlife might move in. Remember, pollinators need our help... when they go, we won't be far behind.
Remember, the bugs can't say "thank you." It's not about the human feeling that comes from building something... it's about mindset that we need to return balance to this earth.
Step 6: Resources
If you're thinking about making an even bigger impact, check out Pollinator Partnership. They've created some incredible resources including extremely detailed guides to native plants that support pollinators by region. Simply type in your zip / postal code and the site will provide you the guide for your location.