This pollinator habitat project is a simple fun way to make places for small insects such as tiny wasps or bees to use for brood rearing or for over wintering.
It is a great educational project suitable for the classroom or for outdoor summer camps.
The project involves the use of natural materials and as a bonus, participants learn more about pollinator needs, plants and how to make cordage.
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Step 1: Materials
This project is made with naturally occurring vegetation having pithy centers. Insects like to tunnel into the pithy centers to lay eggs. Insects also like to overwinter in the pithy centers as it provides an insulated space that protects against precipitation and cold temperatures.
If you look closely in Photos 1 and 2, in the center of the pithy stem you will see the tail end of a tiny insect, so they really do use this type of vegetation.
For this project you will need several stems of herbaceous plants that have pithy centers. Milkweed plants are great. Check any tall herbaceous plant that you see as many tall plants have pithy centers. Dried plants are best.
Rose plants also have pithy centers and would also be suitable.
Select about 7 to 10 stems. Avoid stems with long splits down the side. Don't worry about appearances, even if picky inspectors might question the suitability of your selections (Photo 3).
Step 2: Gathering Material for Cordage
Cordage is needed to tie together a bundle of pithy stems. One could purchase jute twine for this project, but it is very satisfying to make your own cordage for this project.
To make cordage you will need long fibers. Milkweed and dogbane plants are excellent plants with long tough fibers in the outer bark. Check your local library or the internet to see if you can find plants in your area that are used to make cordage. Dried plant fibers are the easiest to work with.
Step 3: Making Cordage
To make cordage, take a stem of your dried plant, place it on a log and use another piece of wood to crack the plant along its entire length as seen in Photo 1.
Remove all the hard pieces of the stem from the fibers until you are left with just the fibers (Photo 2).
Grab the fibers in the center and twist the fibers together as seen in Photos 3 and 4.
Keep twisting the fibers until a kinked loop forms and if you are right handed, grab the loop with your left hand forefinger and thumb.
Use your free hand to twist the fibers labeled "A" in a direction away from you, or in the direction of the arrow as seen in Photo 5 and bring it over the top of "B". Hold "A" in place between your thumb and forefinger and twist "B" in a direction away from you or in the direction of the arrow as seen in Photo 6 and bring it back over the top of "A" and hold it in place below "A".
Keep twisting the fibers in this fashion and you will soon see your cordage get longer and longer (Photo 7) until you have a nice long piece to bundle the stems (Photo 8).
Altogether you will need three pieces of cordage. Two pieces to tie the bundled pithy stems and a third piece of cordage to make a hanger to attach the pollinator bundle in a place where the pollinators can find it and use it.
Step 4: Tying It All Together
Once you have the cordage made, it is time to make the pollinator bundles.
You will need about 7 to 10 pithy stems cut to about 8 inches (20.3 cm) long (Photos 1-3). After you cut the stems, use a nail or small stick to open the ends of any stems that might have been crushed closed during the cutting.
As seen in Photos 4 and 5, take one of the cordage pieces and wrap the bundled pithy stems together on one end. Tie a knot and then use the second piece to tie the other end. Finally tie the third piece of cordage to both ends of the bundle to create a hanging loop.
Simply hang the pollinator bundle in a tree or in a tall shrub. The pollinator bundle will have visitors soon enough and should last for a few seasons before falling apart. Because the pollinator bundle is made entirely from materials gathered in nature, the bundle will naturally breakdown without looking like a bundle of trash.
Step 5: Summer Camp
We shared this activity with a group of summer campers and they really enjoyed making the cordage and the pollinator bundles. The campers learned more about pollinators, plants and simple ways that they can assist pollinators by making pollinator bundles. They even took extra fibers with them because they wanted to practice making more cordage at home. They learned a lot, made new friends and had a great time...and that is what summer camp is all about!