Do-it-yourself beekeeping has gained in popularity as people realize the benefits of bees to our environment. Plus, it’s just so much fun to watch bees interact with plants and flowers.
Running parallel to this popularity is a glut of commercial bee houses that can be more harmful than healthy to the bees.
Some store-bought bee houses lack the flexibility and features needed to safely host bees. In some cases, they effectively become death traps for the bees.
Learning the downsides of these poorly designed bee houses is a prerequisite to building your own bee house—one that is attractive to bees while keeping them safe.
What Makes a Good Bee House
When many people think of bee living arrangements, the first thought might be of the classic Langstroth box, a beehive with multiple layers for large bee colonies. By contrast, bee houses—also called bee hotels—attract and house solitary bee species.
Tame and docile, solitary bees are excellent pollinators. They improve your garden and help your flowers thrive. Mason bees, leafcutter bees, and miner bees are already part of your local area, so it’s just a matter of your providing a suitable and safe home for them.
A bee house looks much like a birdhouse. A large box contains many smaller reeds or cardboard tubes that allow the bees to nest. The box should provide sufficient protection from the weather. The tubes must be smooth and splinter-free inside. The backs of the boxes should have a backing. And the tubes should discourage condensation and mold.
Generally, you want to provide flexibility for yourself so that you can keep the bee house clean. This is a quality lacking in many commercial bee houses.
5 Problems With Commercial Bee Houses
Before building a DIY option, it helps to examine the flaws with commercial bee houses to know what to avoid.
1. Open Back Side
If the back of the bee house is open, parasites can enter from that direction. The tubes should have a wall on the back part of the bee house.
2. Unremovable Tubes and Blocks
It’s likely a convenience for the maker of the bee house, but gluing the tubes together prevents the owner of the bee house from removing them. When you cannot clean out the tubes efficiently, there will be an increase in parasites, fungi, and bacteria.
3. Poor Protection Against Water
Tubes that are flush with the front of the bee house have no protection against rain. Just like a house has eaves, bee houses too need overhangs to prevent the water from coming into the tubes.
4. Holes That Are Splintery or Rough
Bees are just like us in that they like to have a nice, comfortable place to live. Splintery reeds and unsanded bamboo are harmful to the bees. The insides of the tubes should be smooth.
5. Blocked or Insufficiently Sized Tubes
Bamboo makes for a picturesque bee house. Too often, bamboo is not prepared well enough. Sometimes, the bamboo nodes—those knuckles that give bamboo its characteristic look—are insufficiently sized or may even be blocked.
Guide For Building a Better DIY Bee House
You can make a simple, inexpensive, and safe bee house using just a soda bottle, clay, and bamboo.
- 2-liter soda bottle
- Bamboo (dried and clean)
- Modeling clay
- 3/8-inch dowel
- Hand saw
- Utility knife
- Measuring tape or ruler
- Fine-grit sandpaper
- With the utility knife, slice off the base and the spout ends of the soda bottle so that only a cylinder is left. Remove all labels and wash out the cylinder.
- Sand off sharp ends of the bottle’s edges.
- Measure the length of the cylinder.
- Cut off the bamboo to 2 inches less than the length of the cylinder. This allows for an overhang to protect the tubes from rain.
- Carefully trim away bamboo splinters and sand them down smooth. Run a dowel down each bamboo piece to check for clearance. Discard any with nodes that block the bees’ access.
- Glue a short strip of sandpaper at the end of the dowel and run it up and down each bamboo piece to smooth the insides.
- Form a disk of modeling clay about 1-inch thick and add it to the back side of the cylinder. Push it in tight.
- Pack the cylinder with the bamboo pieces, forcing them into the modeling clay. The clay prevents access to the back side of the bee house and holds the bamboo in place. The bamboo pieces should be tight and secure.
- When you are finished, solidly mount the bee house to a post, fence, or wall so that it does not move around.
“Mason Bees in the Home Garden.” Penn State Extension