Healthy Bee Hotels
Learn how to care for you guests and how to make your bee hotel great!
It’s no secret that bees are threatened, and to help them an increasing number of people are building bee hotels. Bee hotels, which can range from simple drilled blocks of wood to large structures, give native bees much-needed nesting materials and space. As environmental consciousness grows, bug and bee hotels have become a great PR piece for companies, organizations, and schools. They are also wonderful ways to spread the word about helping bees. As experts with decades of experience raising these kinds of bees, we’d like to help you with the design and management of bee hotels.
Bees are not just staying here on a stop-over
Many native bees do not migrate or travel great distances, so they don’t rest at a hotel before moving on. They move in. Solitary hole-nesting bees are living their entire lives at their hole-nesting site. While they’re only active for about six weeks, the bees spend many more months hibernating in their hotels.
Bees need a good location
Unlike honey bees (whose range can be up to 16 square miles), native bees don’t like to travel far from their hotel to forage. The flying range of mason and leafcutter bees is only about 300ft, or 100m, which is about 2.5 acres of surrounding area. Bees need water, a variety of blooming flowers, and for mason bees, clay mud nearby. Native hole-nesting bees use different natural materials for building their protective cocoons or nesting chamber partitions. Examples are tree resin, flower and leaf down, pebbles, mud, pollen, and sometimes a combination of more than one.
Design tips for bee health
The goal of bee hotels is to provide habitat, create awareness, and mitigate the extinction of our native bees. And like hotels for humans, native bees need clean, disease-free places to live that aren’t too far from their restaurants (flowers and water) and houseware stores (clayey mud soil or leaves).
- Lots of flowers. Each bee needs about 1 square meter or yard of densely-packed flowers per day. Does your area have flowering trees and bushes or is it a meadow of wildflowers?
- Local materials are best. Avoid exotic materials like bamboo. Bamboo is not native to North America and none of our native bees evolved to nest in it. Please see our Pests, Chemicals, & Drilled Wood section to learn why we don’t recommend bamboo.
- Location, location. Bee hotels should be placed in a spot that receives morning sun and is not too hot in the afternoon. Hotels placed in the shade tend to attract beneficial wasps instead of bees. These wasps are great predators of bugs but they might not be the goal of your bee hotel.
- Management is key. You wouldn’t want to stay at an ill-managed hotel, would you? Managing bee hotels is an easy task and it is the best way to reduce the spread of pests and disease. The best way to manage a bee hotel is to harvest the cocoons and separate the pests from the guests each year.
- To manage bees, harvest their cocoons. The only way that you can harvest cocoons is to design your hotel with materials that can be opened. There is no easy way to open a drilled block of wood but you can salvage the block by inserting paper or cardboard tubes before the bees start nesting. Provide nesting tubes like natural lake reeds and avoid plastic straws. Bees feel and are safer in nesting tubes that are closed on the back end.
Harvest cocoons to ensure bee health
Harvesting bee cocoons is the best way to ensure the health of your hotel’s guests. As you open nesting material you are able to separate and remove infected cocoons and pests. Our reusable wooden nesting trays can be cleaned with a stiff hard wire brush or a mild bleach solution when needed. Look at our Harvest Cocoons | Step by Step page for more details.
What to know even more?
Get to know the bees and wasps that may be in your hotel by looking at our Capped Ends Guide (coming soon!). Learn about the characteristics of native hole-nesting bees in our Spring Bees vs Summer Bees page. Understand what can harm your bees by reading our Pests, Chemicals & Drilled Wood page. And we would love for you to Help Build Bee Education!