June 24, 2010
A Bee Abode
Give struggling bee populations a break by giving them a home
If you don’t have dead trees or logs lying around your backyard sanctuary for bees to use as nest sites, you can create the nooks and crannies favored by cavity-nesting bees with an easy do-it-yourself project: a bee block.
Build a bee block
You can buy bee blocks and other bee homes at garden or other specialty stores, but if you want to make your own, here are directions:
- Into the side of untreated 4 x 6 inch lumber or similarly-sized stick of firewood (the length is not important), drill a range of holes approximately 1/2 inch apart.
- Drilling at different diameters (about 3/32–3/8 inch) and depths will accommodate different bee species. For example, 5/16-inch diameter and 2–4 inch deep holes will favor mason bees. Don’t drill the holes all the way through the wood, and try to make them as smooth as possible on the inside.
- Adding a roof will protect nesting bees from rain and strong sun.
- At a height of about 2–4 feet, firmly attach your bee block to a stake and place it in the garden or affix it to a building, fence, or tree. Face it in an east or southeasterly direction so it catches the morning sun.
- Line the holes with specially made paper straws or tubes (you can find these online by searching for "bee paper straw," or you can make your own of parchment paper or newspaper) for easy cleaning at the end of the season. Don't use plastic straws; they can allow mold to grow and have been linked to bee deaths.
Maintaining bee blocks
- To reduce the occurrence of parasites, fungi, and diseases, pull straws out of nest blocks with tweezers at the end of the summer, and store them in a cool place over the winter (shed, fridge) in a ventilated container so mold does not develop.
- Wash out the block with a mild bleach solution
- Let it dry and store it for the winter
- In spring, insert new straws and place the occupied ones you collected the previous season in a protected, east-facing location somewhat near the cleaned out block. Dispose of used straws when the bees emerge.
Learn more about bee homes
You can find lots of information online about befriending bees. Here are a few places to start:
»The Xerces Society's Nest for Native Bees factsheet
» The U.S. Department of Agriculture's page on building a bee (or nesting) block
»The National Sustainable Agriculture Center's information on helping native bees.
»The Blog at Help Save Bee's page on building a mason bee house
Just for fun: Find out about the bees who make nests out of flower petals.
Help bees in other ways
If having bee home in your yard doesn't appeal to you, or if you've set up your block, hive, or nest and now want to do more, you can give them food and a safe habitat.