Making a home for the birds and the… bees!

National Nestbox Week is designed to encourage people to provide more homes for wildlife in their gardens – why stop with the birds? I spent last Sunday making bird boxes, bat boxes and this – a home for solitary bees.

I confess to knowing very little about these bees but I do find them fascinating – I watched one coming and going from an old drill-hole in a fence post in the garden last summer and meant then to do something to increase the availability of suitable niches for them this year.

February is the ideal time to install these habitat features – it gives them time to naturalise a bit as well as ensure that they are in evidence for any bees which may be seeking a home as the temperatures rise in the spring.

You may well have seen various bee houses for sale in garden centres and similar gift shops. I have always been surprised at quite how much these cost, although drilling all of the holes made me re-consider the economy of having somebody else do it for me! Nontheless, I rescued a selection of silver birch logs from my parents’ house (they recently took down a tree and the logs seemed too beautiful to be consigned to the ashes of the logburner) and set about making a mini bee hotel.

The logs were cut into 7 inch sections and I made a simple frame from some old offcuts of wood to hold them. I would suggest, if you choose this approach, to screw the frame together very firmly. This allows you to pack the logs in tight and hammer in additional smaller pieces to fill in the gaps and keep them in place, using the tension of the solid frame to hold against.

Once I had arranged the logs in a fairly stable manner within the frame, I set to work drilling holes in the logs, being careful to remove as much of the sawdust as possible and making sure that they were pointing slightly upwards to stop the rain from getting in.

This guide provides an excellent introduction to making these habitats and, following its recommendations, I have made holes from 2mm to 8mm in order to attract a range of different types of solitary bee.

I could not find much in the way of siting recommendations for these habitats although one page on the Telegraph website suggested the sunniest spot in the garden. Our garden is quite shaded but I have selected a spot near the vegetable and herb garden, to encourage pollinators to our vegetables this year, where the sun shines throughout the morning and should provide warm conditions. It also benefits from being sheltered to prevent rain from reaching the bee hotel.

Below are some step-by-step photographs showing the creation of the feature – I will hopefully update in the summer to describe all of the bees which have come to use it!

If you wanted to encourage bees in a more casual way, the guide recommends simply drilling holes into fence posts and other logs and pieces of wood around the garden. This creates less of a feature but, in terms of encouraging biodiversity into your garden, it is ideal!

Silver birch logs which looked too beautiful to burn!
Silver birch logs which looked too beautiful to burn!
Cut the logs into 7in sections which can then be drilled longways to create the holes for use by solitary bees.
Cut the logs into 7in sections which can then be drilled longways to create the holes for use by solitary bees.
The logs stacked inside a simple wooden frame made from offcuts of wood. It took a while to arrange them all in a stable manner but a sturdy frame allows you to hammer in additional smaller pieces to pack the logs in, using the tension of the frame to hold them in place.
The logs stacked inside a simple wooden frame made from offcuts of wood. It took a while to arrange them all in a stable manner but a sturdy frame allows you to hammer in additional smaller pieces to pack the logs in, using the tension of the frame to hold them in place.
Then drill! This is the finished product, filled with various sized holes from 2mm up to 8mm. I would suggest drilling all holes with a small drill bit to begin with, then widen some of them to different sizes as starting work with an 8mm bit is tough going! The metal around the outside is not part of the design, rather the shelving unit behind a shed where pots are kept - it faces onto the vegetable and herb beds whilst the shef above it also provides cover from the rain.
Then drill! This is the finished product, filled with various sized holes from 2mm up to 8mm. I would suggest drilling all holes with a small drill bit to begin with, then widen some of them to different sizes as starting work with an 8mm bit is tough going! The metal around the outside is not part of the design, rather the shelving unit behind a shed where pots are kept – it faces onto the vegetable and herb beds whilst the shef above it also provides cover from the rain.
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4 thoughts on “Making a home for the birds and the… bees!

  1. jen3972 February 25, 2014 / 9:29 am

    Brilliant! I have some old pallets and some plum tree logs so I will make one for my solitary bees

    • Grantham Ecology February 25, 2014 / 10:32 am

      Glad you liked the post and good luck – it makes a nice feature for attractive logs! I just hope the bees appreciate it too – fingers crossed! 🙂

    • Grantham Ecology February 25, 2014 / 8:28 pm

      I was about to be rather disheartened but that research is relating to bumblebee nest boxes rather than those for solitary bees – hopefully those designed for solitary are more effective! I’ve seen a few people posting photos of their own solitary bee homes with mason bees and similar entering and leaving so I am hopeful that, if I’ve got the design right, they might move in in the summertime! I think the requirements for bumblebees, which typically nest below ground and create nests, might make them a tricky species group to accomodate with a purpose-built habitat.

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