Different native bees require different accommodation so visit the webpage and decide who you are going to build a home for.
Over 99% of Australia’s 1,700 native bee species are not social and do not live in a colony. They do not produce honey but, they are fantastic pollinators and it is worth your while to encourage these bees into your garden. Best of all they will readily take up residence in a bee hotel.
In Australia, we do have social stingless bees (Trigona species and Austroplebeia species). These are social bees that produce honey and live in large nests with a queen, males and thousands of workers. We do not have these in Canberra as they don’t like the cold.
What we do have in Canberra is native solitary and semi-social bees.
Solitary bees as the name suggests, live alone in individual nests in small holes in wood or in the ground. These include such bees as Blue Banded Bee and Leafcutter Bee.
Semi social bees live together in small groups. These include such varieties as the Reed Bee and Great Carpenter Bee.
In nature native bees nest in burrows of different sizes and materials.
They will build nests in:
- Tunnels in the ground,
- Excavated holes in pithy stems or decaying timber, or
- Inside abandoned holes left by burrowing insects in timber.
The native bees that take up residence in your bee hotel will help pollinate your local native plants and of course your veggie patch. So it is a win for you, a win for the native bees and a win for the local ecosystem.
Here are the most common kinds of native bees that you might see checking into your Bee Hotel:
- Resin Bees
- Leafcutter Bees
- Masked Bees
- Reed Bees
- Blue Banded Bees
- Homalictus Bees
The bee hotel
Big or small?
Size does matter especially when we are talking about bee hotels. The type of bee you are trying to attract will determine the type and size of bee hotel you decide to build.
Hotels for Resin Bees, Leafcutters and Reed Bees
Ideally, you should make lots of small hotels and spread them around your yard. In the bush, the pithy stems or holes in timber, that these native bees use for their nests, are fairly scattered. Setting them up like this will help minimise the build-up of predators and parasites that may congregate at one single large bee hotel.
Hotels for Blue Banded Bees
Blue-banded bees will naturally build dense clusters of nests. Each nest is owned by an individual. The presence of blue-banded bee nests encourages other blue banded bees to take up residence. To attract blue banded bees you should place clay nest blocks in groups of about ten blocks. This will prove to be attractive to our blue-banded friends.
The key message here is to reuse and recycle. All the materials you need to make a bee hotel you can beg, borrow, steal or scavenge. Maybe not steal.
Use materials that are non-toxic and avoid timber that has been chemically treated.
Bamboo and pithy stems
Resin and Leafcutter bees like to take up residence in lengths of bamboo. Cut the bamboo so that the piece has one open, cut off the end and one end sealed by a node. The cavity needs to be about 150 mm long. If the distances between the nodes in your bamboo are less than 150 mm long, you can drill through a node to make a longer cavity. The diameter inside the bamboo should be between 3 and 13 mm wide. Native bees are unlikely to use bamboo holes that are wider than 10 mm but wasps and other kinds of insects may use them.
Reed bees have a hankering to cut nest burrows inside pithy stems. Any pithy stem should suffice. I have used saffron thistle stems and the stems from wild fennel. Cut lengths of about 200 mm long. Pack these tightly into a frame, a piece of PVC pipe, large bamboo or another tube. Alternatively, tie a small bundle of stems tightly with some tie wire. Then attach the bundle firmly to a branch in a shrub with the cut ends of the canes poking out of the foliage. Make sure that the bundle does not move around too much when the wind blows.
Blue Banded Bees like to nest in soft clay soils. You can make small portable clay blocks for Blue Banded Bees by packing clay soil into short lengths of PVC or metal downpipe.
Timber blocks with drilled holes
Resin Bees and Masked Bees love holes drilled in timber blocks. Hardwood will last longer and weather better. Try and use timbers that are local to your area, this way it is as natural an environment as possible.
Native bee species of different sizes will nest in holes drilled in timber blocks. Native bees come in different sizes so you should drill the holes in your timber a range of sizes between 3 mm and 10 mm wide. The depth of the drilled holes is also very important. Research tells us that the depth of the holes can have an effect on the sex of the newly hatched bees. If a drilled hole is too short, the young bees that emerge from the nest may be mainly of one sex. To make sure there is a good mix of sexes and that we are not putting nature out of balance it is recommended that the drilled holes should be between 100 to 150 mm deep.
Placement of your bee hotels
If your bee hotel is exposed to the elements you may choose weatherproof it by containing it in a structure with a roof on top. You can make the structure for a bee hotel from a wide variety of materials, and as always reuse and recycle where ever possible. You are only limited by your imagination.
A bee hotel is part of your wider efforts to be pollinator-friendly. To maximise the effectiveness of your new bee hotel place it in your garden surrounded by pollinator-friendly plants. That is plants that provide nectar and pollen year-round. This will not only attract native bees but also support them throughout the year. Refer to the Plant native and Fill your yard with flowers pages. Provide a Bee bath and remember that insecticides kill native bees so Go organic in your yard.
Access to morning sun and protection from strong winds are good for bee hotels. If your bee hotel has a weather-proof frame or roof, it can be placed out in the garden; otherwise, place it in a sheltered place such as on a verandah or under the eaves of your house and keep it out of the damp.
Unfortunately, nothing in life is free. Building a Bee Hotel is a fun and simple activity that all the family can enjoy, but to keep your new residents happy and healthy you will need to do a bit of maintenance once in a while.
Once you have a busy population of solitary bees visiting your Bee Hotel, it is common that some pests and parasites will also come along. This is part of the natural cycle of life. There are some steps you can take to help prevent these pests and parasites from building up to levels that will threaten your bee populations.
To prevent the build-up of mites and parasitic wasps in a Bee Hotel, it is useful to renew or clean the nest materials periodically. Replace old bamboo and pithy stems with new material and the same goes for drilled wooden blocks and clay blocks. This, not a huge overhead when you consider the bees are working for you and the local environment for free.