A new bee hotel

Posted: Friday 25 April 2014
by Kate Bradbury

Last week, in my quest to have The Most Solitary Bees On An Allotment Ever, I made a bee hotel using a cardboard box.

Red mason bee

Last week, in my quest to have The Most Solitary Bees On An Allotment Ever, I got carried away and made a bee hotel using a cardboard box. In hindsight this wasn’t a good idea. It was a moment of madness – but because I cycle to the allotment, I have to transport my bee hotel materials in small chunks, otherwise they're too cumbersome and heavy.

Waiting a whole week to bring the permanent wooden box seemed like far too long, so I shoved some dry oasis flower foam into the nearest cardboard box and nailed it to a wooden post. I thought it might alert the bees to the presence of a new habitat for a week in anticipation of The Real Thing.

And it did, of course. By my next visit seven days later, a little army of female red mason bees (Osmia bicornis) had moved in and the cardboard box was falling apart. I’d created a solitary-bee death trap. This wasn’t part of the plan.

Like all solitary bees, red mason bees lay eggs in individual cells, rather than living in colonies like bumblebees and honeybees. Each female leaves a parcel of pollen and nectar for each grub to eat and it emerges as an adult bee a year later, to mate and start the process again.There are around 240 species of solitary bee in the UK – many nest in the ground but some species nest in cavities such as old plant stems and holes made in wood by beetles.

The latter habitat can be easily recreated using sunflower and bamboo stems, wood with holes drilled in, or lightweight (and therefore easy to transport by bike) dry oasis flower foam. Pop it in the sunniest part of the garden, and hey presto – the bees will move in. But do try to create a habitat that lasts for more than a week.

I arrived on Monday with the wooden box (an old drawer I’d found in a skip), but with the legs still at home, I was unable to build the hotel proper. So, with bees rushing in and out and the wonderful accompanying sound of the chewing out of new cells within the box, I did a botch job to secure the habitat for four more days. Tomorrow I will bring wooden legs and a power drill. Then all I have to do is attach the wooden legs, secure the hotel in the ground and pop the cardboard box inside it. Everything will be fine. 

Many thanks to Penny Frith/The Wildlife Trusts for their kind permission to use their image of a red mason bee. Find out more about red mason bees.

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oldchippy 26/04/2014 at 11:07

Hi Kate now Royal Mail are giving up there cycles maybe you could get one of there's,they have nice big carriers on the front and panniers on the rear,


Victoria Sponge 26/04/2014 at 11:13

I think my local bees have missed the 'hey presto' part...

Kate Bradbury 26/04/2014 at 17:51

A Royal Mail bike would be perfect! I have to make that happen...

oldchippy 26/04/2014 at 18:53

Next time I'm in a Delivery office I will ask for one.