Although honey bees and bumblebees are probably the most well-known, did you know other species of solitary bee are even better pollinators? With the current global decline in bee populations, it is becoming ever more critical to protect them. One way of achieving this is by making a bee house or bee hotel that can be a home to solitary bee species like the Mason bee. In this article, we will discover how to make a bee house with bamboo.
What You'll Learn Today
- Do Bamboo Bee Houses Work?
- What Kinds of Bee uses a Bamboo Bee House?
- How Do You Build a Natural Bee House?
- Where Should I Put My Bee House?
- How do I Attract Bees to my Bee House?
- Caring for Your Bamboo Bee House and Bees
Do Bamboo Bee Houses Work?
Bamboo bee houses do work. There are just a few things you need to know to make them really successful.
- Always make sure the end of the bamboo pieces you use are capped off at the back. You can do this by using the natural nodes of the bamboo or by plugging the hole with some clay.
- The bamboo tubes should be replaced each year to help prevent disease, mold, and other potential problems from building up. We will look more at this later in the article.
- The size of the holes in each of your bamboo pieces is very important. If the holes are too large, then the bees won’t use them.
- If you choose to paint or varnish your bamboo bee house, then you’ll need to do it a couple of months in advance. This is because bees can be put off by the strong scents that these products emit.
- Location, location, location. If your bee house is not situated in the right place, then it won’t attract any bees.
When left to their own devices, mason bees will build their nests in wood piles, under the eaves of roofs, or in someplace where there is a gap of the right size. They use mud, preferably clay, to seal up their homes and like certain plants more than others to use for food.
Without these elements present in the environment, you won’t get a successful colony.
What Kinds of Bee uses a Bamboo Bee House?
Several kinds of solitary bees, such as mason bees, leafcutter bees, or white-faced bees, are likely to take up residence in your bamboo bee house.
There are well over 100 species of mason bee in North America and many more worldwide.
Mason bees are close relatives of the honey bee, but they don’t make any honey. Keeping them is a great, very low-maintenance way of helping to protect bee populations and maintain all the benefits we get from our top pollinators.
You’ll find mason bees around from spring until late summer. They only live for a few weeks, and the following season a new generation emerges to take their place.
A mason bee’s lifespan is only weeks long, but the life cycle takes a year to complete.
When temperatures start to exceed 50°F for a sustained period, the hibernating mason bees begin to chew their way out of their nest.
After emerging, the male mason bee will fly around for approximately two to three weeks mating with females before he dies. The female bee will appear a short time after, feed, make a new nest, mate, and lay up to 35 eggs before her death.
- Once the female emerges, she mates, and within three days, starts building her nest.
- She collects pollen and nectar to store in each of the cells she makes in the hole she’s chosen.
- As she progresses, she stocks each cell with food, lays an egg, seals the cell, and then begins on the next one until the nest hole, or bamboo tube, is filled and finally capped off with mud.
- Some species of mason bee line their cells with flower petals.
- Nest building takes between seven to eight weeks to complete, after which the female dies.
- The eggs are placed in a specific order so that the young male bees can emerge before the females when they’re ready to break out of the nest tube.
- The female bee achieves this by storing the semen she received during mating. To produce a female offspring, she fertilizes the egg she has laid. To produce a male, she leaves the egg unfertilized.
- The newly hatched bees emerge in early spring, sooner than honey bees which require warmer conditions to fly. An adult bee can take up to two weeks to fully emerge from its cocoon, and once it has, it quickly finds a mate.
- After all the eggs have been laid, they begin to hatch, and the larvae eat the store of pollen and nectar the mother bee left for them. In around ten days, they spin a cocoon, become a pupa, and grow into adult bees that stay dormant over the winter months.
- Just as their parents did before them, they emerge in the spring and carry on the cycle.
How Do You Build a Natural Bee House?
Making a natural bee house isn’t too tricky. It’s a project easy enough for someone with very few DIY skills, or for those who are more ambitious, a bee palace can be created.
The example below is for a small bee house, but the size you make is constrained only to how large or small you want it to be. What’s important is the depth: six inches is the minimum and nine the maximum.
You will need:
- Bamboo canes
- Marine-grade plywood 1/4 to 1/3 inch thickness
- Wood glue
- Tacking nails
- Hanging materials
If you don’t want to make the box yourself, you can use a suitable one purchased from a store or even another recycled container such as an old plastic bucket, a cut up piece of drain pipe and so on. Whatever you decide to use, it needs to be waterproof.
How to measure your bamboo bee house:
You will need to make a box by cutting your piece of plywood into appropriate sizes.
- Sides x 2 = 9 inches high by 6 inches deep.
- Top/bottom x 2 = 9 inches plus the thickness of your plywood two times. For example, if your plywood is ¼ inch thick you would measure 9 and a half inches by 6 inches.
- Back x 1 = 9 inches, plus the thickness of your plywood two times as shown above by 9 inches, plus the thickness of your plywood two times. So it makes a square.
- Roof x 2 = This is to make a pitched roof. Cut it to a length that gives an aesthetically pleasing pitch and to a width of 9 inches to provide protection from the rain.
You will need enough bamboo canes to fill your bee house that have holes with a range of sizes from between 2/16 of an inch to 6/16 of an inch (2mm to 10mm).
The canes should be cut to varying lengths of between 6 inches and 7 inches (15cm to 18cm). This helps the bees navigate to their individual homes once the bee house is assembled
Assembling the Bee House:
Assemble the box using your wood glue and tacks.
- Taking the top piece, hammer in two tacks, one on each side, so they don’t go right through the board. Carefully measure the distance first to ensure they will penetrate the back of the board at exactly half the thickness of your plywood when you hammer them all the way through. Do this on both the 6-inch ends but not on the front or back. Make sure the tacks don’t go all the way through yet.
- Apply a line of wood glue along the top edge (end) of a 6-inch side piece (where you can see the multiple layers of wood stuck together).
- While you hold your top piece in place over your side piece, hammer the tack nails all the way in. You’ll end up with an L-shaped piece. You can add a couple more tack nails if you like for additional strength. Leave to dry.
- Now repeat the same process with the other side and bottom and allow that to dry too.
- Next, take each of your partially assembled pieces and attach them together using glue and the nails in precisely the same way as detailed above. Again add more tacks if you like and leave to dry.
- Take your back piece and hammer tacks in partially. Do this all the way around all four sides, using the same measurement from the edge as you did previously.
- Placing your box on its front, apply glue to the exposed back edges and apply the back piece hammering in the nails completely.
- Your box is now assembled. Leave it to dry.
- Once dry, take the pieces you have cut for the roof and glue and hammer them together to make a right angle, and leave it to dry.
- Apply your roof to your box and use tacks and glue to join it to the box, so it looks like a little open-fronted house.
- Put your hanging attachments in place. Ensure it is strong enough to hold the weight of the bee house when it is filled with bamboo and bees.
- Fill the box with your assorted lengths of bamboo canes. Make sure they are really well stuffed in, so they won’t fall out. It can be tempting to glue the bamboo in place, but don’t do this, as the canes need replacing every year.
- If you decide to varnish or paint the outside of your bee house to give it extra protection from the elements, then remember to leave it for a few weeks before hanging it to let the smell dissipate.
In this video, you can see the step-by-step process of building a bee house:
Where Should I Put My Bee House?
The placement of your new bee house is important. Bees aren’t all that crazy about swinging around in the wind, and they need to get the early morning sunlight to help them warm up so they can fly. Here’s how to find the perfect location:
- Fixing – Find a solid, preferably wooden object like a tree, shed, fence, or post to attach your bee house.
- Height – The house should be approximately 5 ft from the ground (4 ft minimum, 7 ft maximum). Ensure nothing is blocking the bees’ flight path into the house. Remove any branches that may be in the way.
- Direction – Ensure the bee house is facing southeast or south to get enough morning sunlight.
- Protection – The bee house needs to protect your bees from rain and driving wind, so try to find a sheltered spot. Morning sunlight must be able to reach the house.
- Food – Bees don’t fly far to find food, usually only around 300ft, so ensure there are a good variety of flowers within that distance from the bee house.
- Mud – Solitary bees, such as mason bees, need mud, preferably clay-rich mud, to build their nests. There needs to be a source of this nearby.
- Pesticides – Don’t use pesticides in your garden, as these can kill your bees. Encourage your neighbors to find alternative, more natural methods of pest control too.
How do I Attract Bees to my Bee House?
Fantastic, you’ve made a great bee house and put it in the perfect location. Now all you need to do is attract bees to it!
The best way of doing this is to plant the most attractive flowers that the bees like. Plants that are beneficial include:
- Anise Hyssop (Agastache)
- Bee Balm (Monarda)
- Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias)
- Clover (Trifolium)
- Coneflower (Echinacea)
- Cranesbill (Geranium)
- Poppy (Papaver)
You need to consider which are the earliest spring flowers that are beneficial to bees, too, as without food when they first emerge, they could die. Many of these plants come from bulbs and will come up year after year once planted. They include:
- Crocus (Crocus sp)
- Dandelions (Taraxacum officinale)
- Flowering Hellebores (Helleborus sp)
- Grape Hyacinth (Muscari armeniacum)
- Lungwort (Pulmonaria sp)
- Native Primroses (Oenothera speciosa)
- Snake’s Head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)
- Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)
- Winter Aconites (Eranthis hyemalis)
Flowers should be planted in large clumps and clusters, making them smell stronger helping bees to find them.
But it isn’t only the smell that attracts bees. More importantly, it is the wavelengths of UV light that flowers have within their petals.
These light waves direct the bees to the nectar and pollen at the center of each flower. When flowers are planted in large groups, this is like building a giant neon sign saying “Food Here” with a big arrow.
We touched on this before, but mason bees really do need mud for nesting. You could give them a patch of wet mud near their nest site, which will help them settle in faster.
Building a mason bee mud source is pretty easy. Just dig a hole in the ground, line it with some polythene, put the soil back in, add some water, and there you have it, one mud hole for bees.
Alternatively, you could just put mud in a bucket and leave it close to your bee house. Whatever you decide to do, ensure the mud stays damp to make it easy to use for the bees.
If you want to ensure the mud you’re supplying is the best possible, then you can buy special bee “Mud Mix” from bee supply stores or online.
Many people forget that bees are living creatures. They need water just like we do. Ensure there is a bee-safe water supply near your bee house.
These can be made simply by filling a shallow container with small clean rocks or even glass marbles that you fill with water to your chosen container content level.
Bees can drown easily. That’s why filling the water pot with rocks or marbles makes it safer for the bees as they can land on them and drink from the shallow pools of water.
Place your bee waterer off the ground if possible.
Caring for Your Bamboo Bee House and Bees
The amount of care your bees will need is very minimal. All you need to do is:
- Keep their mud source damp
- Top up their water regularly and clean it out once a week.
- In the autumn, bring your bee house inside someplace dry but unheated, like a shed or garage, to keep your hibernating bees safe over winter.
- In the early springtime, hang up your bee house outside again and put a new one next to it to further increase your bee population.
Some people line the bamboo sticks with paper tubes or paper straws and remove them from the bee house in winter to protect the bees, placing them outside again in the spring to emerge.
Alternatively, you can cut the tubes open carefully and tip your bee cocoons into a plastic tub and keep it safely inside in an unheated place over the winter, then just put it outside right next to the bee house in early spring so the bees can emerge from their winter slumber and re-populate the bee house again.
This can help keep pests and diseases out of your bee house as you can then remove the bamboo tubes and give them a thorough washing or replace them with new ones each year.
Mason bees are very docile. The Males have no sting, and while the females do, it is not barbed like a honey bee, and their venom is much weaker. You really have to provoke a mason bee to be stung by one.
Attracting solitary bees to your garden is a great way to keep all your plants well pollinated and help save the bees.
Upkeep is very minimal, as is the cost of making their housing. You can continue to grow your bee population year on year by adding new bee houses next to the old ones, but do replace the bamboo canes regularly to prevent diseases from spreading.
If your DIY skills aren’t up to much, you can make a bee house using another item such as a plastic container, bucket, drainpipe, and so on. Or buy one from a store.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading this article about how to make a bee house with bamboo. There are lots of other bamboo, animal, and farmstead-related articles on our website, head on over to take a look.