Why We Do Not Use Bamboo
Backyard bee houses and bee hotels have become so popular that large garden distributors have started selling offhand nesting habitats, which has naturally sparked discussion on house construction and nesting materials best practices. The house itself is not as crucial as the nesting materials. However, we recommend (and pride ourselves) on quality construction so that your bee house withstands the elements year after year.
There are a variety of nesting materials on the market: drilled blocks of wood, cardboard, paper, and plastic tubes, and different species of natural reeds (most commonly, Phragmites and bamboo). If not properly managed, some of these materials can do more harm than good to the cavity-nesting bees that take up residence.
One of the most effective control methods for the spread of pests and diseases in managed populations of cavity-nesting bees is nest cleaning and maintenance. If you install an artificial nesting house, you'll need to be diligent in care and maintenance if you want to see healthy future generations of bees in your yard - and using bee-safe nesting materials makes care and maintenance a breeze!
Nesting materials sealed at one end, breathable, and easily opened are the best way to protect bees from pathogens such as excessive mold, chalkbrood, and pollen mites. Furthermore, proper care and harvesting of cocoons in the fall and spring can significantly reduce the incidences of pests and parasites, allowing managed bees to thrive.
When selecting nesting materials for your bee house, we recommend avoiding plastic straws, bamboo reeds, and drilled wood blocks without paper inserts. Our intention with this recommendation is not to shame anyone for purchasing a budget-friendly bee nesting kit or from DIY bee hotels, it's to help our bee raisers be successful in their journey and reduce the incidences of pests and diseases that are common with harder to manage nesting materials.
Why avoid plastic straws?
Plastic does not breathe and can allow mold to grow. Straws cannot be reused, recycled, or broken down organically - adding to the waste problem.
Why avoid drilled blocks of wood without paper inserts?
Drilled blocks can't be opened, which can allow for pathogens to take hold. If you do use drilled blocks, add paper inserts so you can harvest cocoons. If you don't use paper inserts, you'll need to replace the block every couple of years to reduce the spread of disease - inevitably, you will throw a few bees away with the drilled blocks.
Why avoid bamboo reeds?
Bamboo is a strong material, making it challenging to open. Bamboo that is left intact can become a harboring ground for pollen mites and chalkbrood. As their name suggests, pollen mites eat pollen which causes the immature bees to starve, and in some cases, even feed on the bee larva! The single most destructive disease of cavity-nesting bees is the fungal pathogen called chalkbrood. Chalkbrood spreads easily between tightly packed, unopened nesting materials. You can't tell if you have an infestation of pollen mites or chalkbrood until you open your nesting materials.
Since bamboo is difficult to open, cocoons (and people) can get damaged in the process. Easier to open alternatives include Phragmites, Asters, Bee Balm, Cup Plant, Honeysuckle, Joe-Pye Weed, Raspberry/Blackberry, Sumac, Sunflower, and Wild Rose. Just make sure you seal one end of the reeds to avoid pests from entering from the back of the nesting hole - clay or mud is a natural substance that works as a suitable tube sealant.
Bamboo reeds are typically too large in diameter and too short in length for many cavity-nesting bee species. We have seen bamboo reeds that were large enough for a frog to sit inside - these diameters are much too big for any bee to nest within. We have also seen bamboo reeds that are only 4-5 inches in length - most cavity-nesting species will seek out nesting cavities of at least 6 inches in length.
If you are responsible and diligent with the care and maintenance of your nesting habitat, then bee populations can do well with most nesting materials on the market. At the end of the day, there are plenty of nesting materials that are better suited to ensure the health and safety of both our wild and managed cavity-nesting bees. Whether you buy from us, buy from another brand or DIY, we want to keep you up to date on bee-raising best practices to make sure both you and your bees are successful!
BEE-sure to check out our collection of bee-safe nesting materials before you go!