Making your own solitary bee nest sites

Different bees like to nest in different places, but there are two key points to remember when creating bee nesting habitats.

  1. Ensure nesting sites are located close to good food sources (flowers).

Nesting habitats are useless for bees if flowers are too far away. Bumblebees need flowers within 1km from their nest and solitary bees will only travel a few hundred meters to find food.

  1. Protect nest sites (even when you do not see bees).

You will only see solitary bees for a short time each year, maybe 6-8 weeks. The rest of the time bees are developing or hibernating in their nest, so it is important not to disturb nest sites all year. Avoid using pesticides in these areas to ensure next year’s bees are safe. Scraping back the top layer of vegetation will not disturb the bees.

Bare soil bank used for nesting by solitary bees.

Make your own mining bee nest site (bee scrape)

Our 62 species of mining solitary bees nest by making tiny burrows in bare earth (soil, sand, clay and peat). They will nest in flat well-drained areas but will generally prefer south/east facing sheltered banks.

You will need:

  • A well-drained sunny south or west facing bank (alternatively you can use well drained flat ground).
  • A spade.
  • Some muscle.

How to make your bare soil nest site:

  • Simply clear the vegetation on your bank with a spade.
  • Vegetation will need to be kept clear and the site may need to be cleared more than once a year.
  • Avoid clearing back the vegetation when the nest is active.
  • Never spray the site with pesticides or allow drift to access the site.

Top Tips

  • The larger the area scraped back the better.
  • Ensure that there are plenty of flowers near the nest site.

Make your own cavity bee nest site – bee hotel

Our 15 species of cavity-nesting solitary bees make their nests in existing cavities in stone walls, masonry, wooden structures, or commercially available bee nest boxes.

Option 1

You will need:

Osmia bicornis nest site © Julie Kendall
Osmia bicornis nest site © Julie Kendall
  • Thick part of a pallet or piece of timber
  • Drill
  • Drill bits (4-8mm in diameter)

How to make your hotel:

  • Simply drill different sized holes into your piece of timber.
  • The holes should be a minimum 10cm in depth and should not have any splinters in them.
  • Place the hotel 1-2 meters above ground facing the morning sun (or south or east facing).

Top Tips

  • Do not drill too many holes, less than 20 of different sizes is preferred.
  • Try putting a sloping roof on top of your bee hotel to ensure it stays dry during rainy weather.
  • Do not hang your bee hotel near bird feeders so the nesting bees will not be easy targets for hungry birds.

Option 2

You will need:

  • Reeds/bamboo stems: Use stems or tubes 4-8mm in diameter, minimum 10cm in length. Do not use plastic straws, as they are not the best nesting materials for many solitary bees. Try collecting reeds growing in marshy areas or get them from a local thatcher. Bamboo is available at most garden centres, and you can hollow it out using a drill bit.
  • String or wire
  • A small piece of PVC piping or equivalent plastic or untreated wood container
  • Scissors or wire cutters
Bee-hotel
Bee Hotel

How to make your hotel:

  • First, make sure that one side of your tubing is closed; if working with reeds or bamboo, each tube should be cut on the “internode” in the centre of the section to create a natural end.
  • Next make sure the open sides of the tubes are all facing the same way. Scatter tubes with different diameters and slightly different lengths throughout the bundle.
  • Take a piece of string or wire and bundle the tubes together. Make sure the tubes are tightly secured, using a second piece of string or wire if necessary. You can stop here and hang up your bundle of nest tubes.
  • Optional: If you want to better protect the nest tubes from rain and wind, enclose them in a container. A small piece of PVC piping or any other small plastic container will do.
  • Cut the front of the tubes so that they are approximately the same length as the container (minimum 10cm in length).
  • Now insert the tubes into the container with the open end facing out. Make sure tubes are packed tightly so they will be secure when the nest is placed outside.

Top Tips

  • Try putting a sloping roof on top of your bee hotel to ensure it stays dry during rainy weather.
  • Do not hang your bee hotel near bird feeders so the nesting bees will not be easy targets for hungry birds.

 

A participant in the Protecting Farmland Pollinators EIP created nesting habitat for solitary bees by drilling holes in an old tree

Alternatively, to help cavity nesting bees on the farm you can:

  • Provide plants with stems for bees to nest in. Some bees use bramble stems to nest in.
  • Provide and protect dry stone walls. The crevices in a dry-stone wall can provide nesting habitat. Avoid spraying with pesticides and manually remove any unwanted vegetation instead.
  • Leave some logs and tree trunks around your farm. Bees can nest in the tunnels in dead wood created by beetles. Place upright to keep any nest sites dry and place in sunny well drained areas.
  • Drill small south or east facing holes in wooden fences, fence posts or concrete structures. Ensure wood is free from treatments or preservatives (varnish, stain, paint). Holes should be a minimum of 10 cm in depth and 4-8 mm in diameter. Create holes of different diameters to attract different types of bees. Use a counter sinking drill bit or sandpaper to ensure the holes are splinter free. The holes should be at least 1.5 – 2 meters from the ground.

For more information see the All-Ireland Pollinator Plans How-to-guide Creating wild pollinator nesting habitat https://pollinators.ie/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/How-to-guide-Nesting-2018-WEB.pdf.