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 some bees are only actively flying for about six weeks, the bees spend many more months hibernating in their hotels. Bee hotels are actually bee homes!
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 nest to forage. The flying range of mason and leafcutter bees is only about 300ft, or 100m, which is about 6 acres of surrounding area. Bees need water, a variety of blooming flowers, and nest-building material. 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 goals of bee hotels are to provide nesting habitat, create awareness, and mitigate the extinction of our native bees.
- Lots of flowers. Each bee needs about 1 square yard or meter 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, which are not native to North America and our native bees have not 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 in the late fall 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.
- Protect against birds. If needed, bird wire keeps birds out of nesting materials. Do not install the bird wire flush against the nesting materials because this keeps bees from being able to get in, too. Choose bird wire with at least 1" openings and bubble the bird wire so that it is at least 2-3" away from materials. The bees need space for maneuvering for landing and take-off.
- Give mason bee cocoons a try. It's a sad fact, but your area may be missing some of its native bee population. You can reintroduce native mason bees to your yard's bee hotel by simply purchasing our cocoons. Raising mason bees can help you learn how to take care of your hotel's other wild guests, too!
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.
Our natural lake reeds are cut at the node to provide a sealed back wall that helps the bees feel safe. They are also easy to open, simply pinch at the open end and they will start to split. Lake reeds are preferred by bees and they offer the best protection against parasitic wasps. Our Pollinator Pack has lake reeds and cardboard tubes in a variety of sizes.
What to avoid
Many DIY bee hotel instructions mean well but their designs lack the forethought that comes from knowing what can harm bees. Bee hotels should aim to mimic natural nesting sites and this can be a hard task to undertake. Imagine the random spacing of a berry bush's stems or the collection of holes on a standing dead tree. Bee hotels must be maintained in order to keep diseases and parasites from easily moving from one nesting hole to the next. Below are common design mistakes and how to avoid them.
- Structures that are too large. A large hotel may look impressive but its size may actually hinder its purpose. In the wild, nesting sites are spread out among dead branches, standing dead trees, and broken bush stems. Smaller hotels spread out along a path can work better.
- Materials permanently installed in place. Nesting materials should not be glued, nailed, or stapled within the protective bee house. Nesting materials should be easy to remove at the end of the season and refreshed with new materials as needed.
- Bird wire flush with nesting holes. Attaching bird wire flat against the front of the nesting holes doesn't give the bees the space they need to approach and land. It may be easier on us to install the wire flat but bees would appreciate us taking the time to design a bee hotel with a landing area.
- Not enough wind and rain protection. The bee hotel is meant to protect the nesting materials inside of it from wind and rain. Nesting materials should be recessed within the bee hotel with 2-3 inches of overhang.
- Unnatural nesting materials. It's tempting to find a use for leftover plastic pipes or straws but plastic (and bamboo) does not allow the pollen and nectar loaf to breathe. Plastic pipes are typically much too large for even the largest of hole-nesting bees.
- Huge nesting holes. Nesting holes should range in size from 3mm to 11mm (0.43 inches) at most. Anything larger than 11mm will force the bee to lay its egg chambers in an awkward orientation.
- Shallow nesting materials. Nesting materials that are too short can force female bees to lay the wrong ratio of female to male bees. Did you know that a female bee actually chooses the sex of its offspring? Our nesting materials are the right length to help the bees lay the right ratio of eggs.
What to know even more?
Get to know the bees and wasps that may be in your hotel by looking at our Native Bee Network (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!