“If you want to encourage a diversity of bees, it’s important to also have several slightly different hole diameters and depths,” says Bratman. This could mean bundling thin cardboard or bamboo tubes into a wooden frame, or drilling an assortment of holes in a block of wood about two inches deep.
Although the main thing is to provide shelter for insects, incorporating other natural and non-natural materials can also help maintain visual interest for humans, although the actual nesting material should be natural.
“I once had a nice “create our own bee hotel” party, and I took out a bunch of scrap wood, we all had power drills, and we drilled holes and placed them interestingly [into frames]Bratman says. “We experimented with bamboo bundles, and some people even built with bricks.” Be careful when using paints and varnishes, as bees could suffer neurological problems from off-gassing coatings, she warns.
A bee hotel can be large enough to cover the side of your house or small enough to hang from the balcony of an apartment complex. Note: Most bees can’t fly above 30 to 40 feet, says Bratman, which means a bee hotel won’t do much if you’re on the 10th floor of a building.
Regardless of your hotel’s peak occupancy, it’s important to ensure the space remains hygienic. While building a bee hotel can be a low-effort activity, maintaining it to prevent disease, pests, and rot requires some work so it doesn’t turn into a hotel from hell.
Clean the tubes after the bee larvae eggs hatch or replace the tubes with new ones. According to the Edmonton & Area Land Trust, compressed air or a pipe cleaner should be enough to clear the holes. The wooden blocks should also be refreshed every few years, but limit any maintenance to when the bees have hatched and left the hotel.
3. Build a habitat for burrowing bees
Building a bee hotel is one way to increase the population of native bees, but since there can be thousands of native bee species in the United States alone, not all bees prefer a pre-made cavity. Some types of bees prefer to nest in the ground, digging their own burrows in suitable soils.
Bee hotels “fill an important gap, but there’s also a need for grasslands and lightly disturbed soils so that ground-nesting bees can be part of the mix as well,” Bratman says.
Many ground-nesting bees live “essentially in the underground equivalent of a studio complex,” she explained. “They’ll burrow into the ground, make a little nest, have multiple entrances and exits, and be right next to hundreds of other bees doing the same thing.”
University of Miami experts suggest not plowing or walking on soil inhabited by ground-nesting bees to prevent it from becoming compacted. Providing areas of loose, well-drained, bare soil can help these bees settle more easily. You will also want to allow native ground cover plants, as opposed to regular lawn plants, to invade your garden. A flower tapestry lawn can be another option. “There’s a lot to be said for challenging the aesthetics of the perfect lawn, which is essentially a food wasteland for bees and other pollinators, and encouraging clover and violets and the occasional dandelion and taller grasses as part of the garden. ‘an architectural statement that a landscape can be more pollinator-friendly,’ adds Bratman.