Build a Backyard Bee House

Bee wise. Build a bee house for your backyard pollinator habitat garden.

Ruffner Volunteer Day 05122018

Ruffner Volunteer Day 05122018

At Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Birmingham, Alabama, Jon Woolley, Conservation Design Manager, partnered with students from the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) Art Department's Assistant Professor of Sculpture, Stacey Holloway. Students researched, designed, and built bee hotels for the Habitat Gardens on the campus of the Nature Center. It is in these gardens where I became a habitat gardener years ago and where I work a few hours every week. I am inspired by all the people who contribute to the gardens, the native plants, and all of the wildlife the gardens attract.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

At Ruffner Mountain Nature Preserve in Birmingham, Alabama, Jon Woolley, Conservation Design Manager, partnered with students from the University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) Art Department's Assistant Professor of Sculpture, Stacey Holloway. Students researched, designed, and built bee hotels for the Habitat Gardens on the campus of the Nature Center. It is in these gardens where I became a habitat gardener years ago and where I work a few hours every week. I am inspired by all the people who contribute to the gardens, the native plants, and all of the wildlife the gardens attract.

If you build it, they will come. Native cavity-nesting bees can be encouraged to nest locally by building a bee house with a variety of tunnels and chambers. Invite the pollinators to your yard by creating the complete habitat. Be bee-friendly!

First, a little bee biology:

There are an estimated 4,000 species of native bees in North America. With great diversity, native bees come in different sizes, have different lifestyles, and life spans and life cycles vary depending on species. Some bees are social and some are solitary. And while we love honeybees, their complex colonies, beeswax and honey, honeybees are not native. They were brought over by European settlers to pollinate crops and to produce honey.

All bees provide an important service to ecosystems and to agriculture by pollinating plants. Pollination is simply the act of transferring pollen from the male reproductive parts of a plant to the female reproductive parts, and there are many plant species that depend on pollinators like bees to transport pollen from one flower to another. Visiting flowers all day, bees work to gather pollen and nectar for their offspring. These pollinators have interesting strategies for carrying pollen. Some species of bees have pollen buckets on their legs, some dust themselves and carry the pollen on their hairy bodies, and then there are tiny masked bees that carry pollen in their crop.

Native bees are more efficient pollinators to many plants native to North America, as honeybees do not know how to pollinate certain flowers that hold on to pollen in their anthers. And in the case of native azaleas and native fruits and vegetables like blueberries, squash, and melons, honeybees just don’t know how to shake it loose like our native bees.

Nature meets contemporary art. UAB sculpture student, Jameson Evans, designed this bee house titled "Polygon" specifically for the limestone scree garden we like to call The Limestone Triangle.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Nature meets contemporary art. UAB sculpture student, Jameson Evans, designed this bee house titled "Polygon" specifically for the limestone scree garden we like to call The Limestone Triangle.

Bumblebees are ground nesters and form semi-social colonies with a queen, but many species of native bees are solitary bees. They nest in cavities and do not produce honey. Of the solitary bees, digger bees, miner bees, sweat bees, squash bees and blueberry bees are ground nesters, while mason bees and leaf-cutter bees will nest in hollow stems or tunnels in dead wood. Solitary bees, once they mate, build the nests, provision the nests (store food for the larva), lay their eggs, and seal off the nesting chamber, they are out of there! Also, females do all of the work. It seems all the males are responsible for is mating and fighting other males for the chance to mate.

The hexagon-shaped "Bee Hotel" (also pictured above) by UAB sculpture student, Priscilla Pulido, is intended to shape an examination of the lives of native bees and direction of the survival of the species. An up-close inspection reveals clues that a few of the cavities are occupied. You can see the mudpacks of mason bees and leaf packs of leaf cutter bees clogging the openings to the chambers.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

The hexagon-shaped "Bee Hotel" (also pictured above) by UAB sculpture student, Priscilla Pulido, is intended to shape an examination of the lives of native bees and direction of the survival of the species. An up-close inspection reveals clues that a few of the cavities are occupied. You can see the mudpacks of mason bees and leaf packs of leaf cutter bees clogging the openings to the chambers.

Although many of the cavity-nesting bees are solitary, they will use the same bee house, just not the same tunnels, so think of your bee house as a bee hotel with a lot of separate rooms. Carpenter bees will excavate their own tunnels, but species of mason bees and leaf-cutter bees will use hollow stems, tunnels built by beetles or other insects, or found nooks and crannies in rocks or wood, so by mimicking these structures, a bee house has the potential to attract a lot of nesters. Some guests to the bee hotel will like bigger rooms, while some prefer smaller rooms, so it is important to build the house with a variety of tunnel sizes.

An adult female mason bee will mate, find a tunnel, forage for food for its offspring, pack the tunnel with pollen and nectar, lay an egg, wall it off with nesting materials, and continue packing the tunnel — pollen, egg, wall — until the tunnel is full, and then she caps the tunnel with a protective wall of mud. In each brood cell, the egg hatches into a larva, the larva feeds on the pollen and nectar provisions, will pupate during the fall, and overwinter as an adult bee in its cocoon. In the following season, the bee will emerge from its pupae, and the whole life cycle will begin again.

Ruffner Volunteer Day 05122018

Ruffner Volunteer Day 05122018

Jon Wooley, Conservation Design Manager at Ruffner Mountain, built this bee castle. It stands above a variety of native plants that attract many species of bees, butterflies, and birds. The biophilic art and garden designs give visitors glimpses into the lives of wildlife and greatly enhances the experiences for visitors to the Nature Center.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Jon Wooley, Conservation Design Manager at Ruffner Mountain, built this bee castle. It stands above a variety of native plants that attract many species of bees, butterflies, and birds. The biophilic art and garden designs give visitors glimpses into the lives of wildlife and greatly enhances the experiences for visitors to the Nature Center.

BobFarley.photoshelter.com

BobFarley.photoshelter.com

Building a bee house is a great way to pull community together and work towards a common goal. In this large "Pollinator House" at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, each participant built small bee houses, and then fastened them to a larger structure. It can be added on to with the cooperation of the next group. The bee house stands in a large habitat garden planted with all native plants. Turkey Creek and Ruffner Mountain both have native plant nurseries, and they partner on programs, projects, and hold an annual Native Plant Sale each spring.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Building a bee house is a great way to pull community together and work towards a common goal. In this large "Pollinator House" at Turkey Creek Nature Preserve, each participant built small bee houses, and then fastened them to a larger structure. It can be added on to with the cooperation of the next group. The bee house stands in a large habitat garden planted with all native plants. Turkey Creek and Ruffner Mountain both have native plant nurseries, and they partner on programs, projects, and hold an annual Native Plant Sale each spring.

Leaf cutter bee nesting season begins in late summer, the larvae won’t pupate until the next spring, and so they will overwinter in a pre-pupa state. Tunnels are generally walled off with pieces of leaves.

Be inspired to build your own bee house with these tips and nesting tunnel requirements:

Build a frame that will help shelter the bee tunnels from the elements. Arrange compartments and secure them within the frame with nails or screws, or by attaching chicken wire to hold things in place.

You can order blocks, paper tubes, or nesting trays, or you can use a variety of small logs, cut branches, bamboo stems, hollow plant stems, paper drinking straws, or DIY paper tubes. To make paper tubes, use a drinking straw or pencil as a form, and wrap a piece of parchment or newspaper around the form and tape. Tubes need to be bundled and put in a smaller housing such as a can, box or a clay pot.

For wood blocks, drill a series of holes, 1/4” diameter (3” to 5” deep) and 3/8” diameter (5” to 6” deep), and make sure the holes are at least 1/2" apart. Do not drill all the way through. Each tunnel needs to be a dead end.

Do not use pressure-treated wood, as the chemicals may be harmful to bees. Avoid using cedar unless it is aged.

"A Bug's Home" is about encouraging reflection. UAB sculpture student, Haley Hester, created this house to remind people of their own homes. With a roof and rooms, furniture replaced with the nest-building materials, the artist invites visitors to think about the needs of bees and compare those to their own needs and consider how they affect the overall habitat for bees.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

"A Bug's Home" is about encouraging reflection. UAB sculpture student, Haley Hester, created this house to remind people of their own homes. With a roof and rooms, furniture replaced with the nest-building materials, the artist invites visitors to think about the needs of bees and compare those to their own needs and consider how they affect the overall habitat for bees.

To maintain and keep clean, simply discard and replace tubes and wood blocks after a couple of years. This will ensure a clean and disease-free house.

Tips for attracting native pollinators:

Nice, neat, closely mown lawns are not good habitat for any wildlife. The best way to invite native bees and other pollinators into your garden is by creating habitat. Habitat is the same for every living thing on Earth — food, water, shelter, and a place to rear young. Besides building a bee house, there are a few more things you can do to make your yard a bee-friendly habitat.

Add more native plants to your landscape. By planting native plants in your garden plots, you’ll provide food in terms of pollen and nectar. Some bees are generalists and will visit many different flowers, but many native bees are specialists and rely on specific native plants, as the bees and the plants have co-evolved and adapted to suit each other’s reproductive needs. Plants also provide places to hide or rest.

Add a sand pit. Leaving a patch of bare soil or installing a sand pit will offer places for ground nesters to excavate chambers close to their food sources.

Add water. A shallow plant tray filled with pebbles and water will give the bees something to drink.

BobFarley.photoshelter.com

BobFarley.photoshelter.com

Bamboo and dried reeds made good nesting tubes. Some might be too big or some too small, but bundled together, the pieces give enough space between cavities and there are plenty for the bees to choose from. It looks like a mason bee found the right spot, as you can see, the hole is closed with a mud clod.

Photo by: Bob Farley

Bob Farley

Bamboo and dried reeds made good nesting tubes. Some might be too big or some too small, but bundled together, the pieces give enough space between cavities and there are plenty for the bees to choose from. It looks like a mason bee found the right spot, as you can see, the hole is closed with a mud clod.

Do not use pesticides, and do not use plants with neonicotinoids. Herbicides and insecticides are bad pollinators in general. Herbicides poison the food source, and insecticide kill beneficial insect as well as pests.

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