Buzz Inn! Create the ultimate luxury accommodation for native bees in your backyard
Want to build a bee hotel this weekend and encourage some native bees into your garden? Bee hotels or nesting boxes provide individual artificial tunnels that entice female solitary native bees to lay their eggs. These bees will source food from your garden and thank you by pollinating your vegetables, fruits and flowers in return.
We have nearly 1,600 types of native bees in Australia so building a few bee hotels with friends and family members helps provide valuable habitat for them. Your flowers will love you for it too. There are some important things to think about before building a bee hotel for your garden.
Materials and Construction
To start with, choose appropriate materials. Recycled and natural materials such as hardwood timber off cuts, old red gum fence palings, old wooden boxes and crates, even an old guitar can be used to create a bee hotel. As long as the wood is untreated (avoid lead paints and treated pine), bee hotel materials are easy to salvage from your garden, shed, neighbours. Ask at your local timber yard for off-cuts of untreated timber. The bees aren’t fussy about design, as long as the bee hotel provides a safe and sheltered home and keeps the rain out. Avoid plastics, cardboard, and composite woods such as particleboard as they tend to deteriorate in the elements.
The bee hotel is essentially a box filled with nesting material. Begin with a box of any shape or size. Let your imagination go wild. The box must be ideally 15cm (or min. 10cm) deep and have an angled roof to ensure rainwater run-off. A 2cm overhang at the front should offer some protection to the entrance. A fixed backing on the box helps keep the contents in and the weather out.
Pack your box with nesting material. Look for materials of varying sizes as native bees range from ant size to a honey bee size. Here are some potential nesting materials:
Natural canes or dried out plant stems (raspberry, grape, sunflower). Dried reeds and bamboo, hollow twigs and decayed wood with beetle holes.
Alternatively, place wooden blocks with holes drilled in them inside your nesting box. Most occupied nesting holes are 5-8mm wide and 100-150mm deep so try experimenting with holes of various sizes, 2cm apart. Here are some variations on hole size for you to create when drilling:
3mm wide | 70mm deep
5mm wide | 120mm deep
6.5mm wide | 150mm deep
Drill holes at a slight upward angle so that bees can easily crawl in. Pass the drilled surface over a flame or lightly sand to remove which can injure bees.
Erecting your bee hotel
Place your bee hotel around 1.5 metres off the ground in a sheltered spot. Ensure it receives morning light but is protected from the afternoon sun. Northeast orientation is ideal. If the spot looks comfortable to your then it is probably attractive to native bees looking for upmarket accommodation.
Create a buzz with buzz pollination
Eight percent of the world’s flowering plants must have their pollen released by buzz pollination. This is when a bee vibrates at a certain frequency to get the most pollen out of a flower. Overseas, plants depend on buzz pollination by the bumblebee, whereas in Australia, most of the soil nesting bees such as the blue-banded bee provide this important job for many natives such as Dianella and Hibbertia. For home gardeners keen on growing higher yields and better quality edible plants such as eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, chillies, blueberries, cranberries and kiwifruit, it is important to attract the right sort of pollinator to carry out buzz pollination.
A great native buzz pollinator, the blue-banded bee, requires mud-brick accommodation. Provide a well-protected soft clay soil space in your garden that is free of mulch and receives the morning sun. Look for bees warming themselves near small holes in the soft clay. Alternatively, create a mud-brick hotel. Source local clay mixed with sand. Fill several 140mm lengths of PVC or terracotta pipes with a wet but malleable clay mixture. Poke 1cm deep entrance holes into the clay before drying. Situate the pipes in a spot that receives morning sun. Allow trailing plant stems to hang down from the top of the mud-brick bee hotel so that the blue-banded bees can check out their new accommodation. It may take a couple of seasons to establish, but once occupied future generations of blue-banded bees will return to your garden.
Advertise your bed and breakfast offer
The most important thing to remember is bees are more likely to notice bee hotels if they happen to be eating nearby. Plant a variety of flowering plants for an attractive native bee smorgasbord. Bees, like us, like variety in both pollen and nectar filled flowers. They also see a spectrum of colours but prefer less reds and more ultraviolet than wee do. Native bees tend to be attracted to purple and blue flowers, as well as yellow and white. Ask at your friendly local nursery for help and look for plants that are suited to your soil type and garden design. Let some of your veggies and herbs go to seed especially those with umber-shaped heads e.g. carrots, dill, and fennel, as these will attract bees. Other bee attracting plants include:
Basil, mint, oregano, borage, rosemary, thyme, and penny royal, chives, marjoram, sage, tansy and feverfew.
Salvia, daisies, hebe, dahlia, lavender, diosma, marigold, roses nad butterfly bush, all fruit trees, and vines such as passionfruit and kiwifruit.
Chocolate and vanilla lily, brachyscomes (native daisy), bottlebrush, tea tree, grevillea, dianella, eucalyptus, hibiscus and correa.
Bees, like all insects, are very sensitive to toxins. Try to avoid using insecticides especially on flowers in the garden. You can make natural alternatives which can often be sourced from your garden or pantry and encourage others to do the same.
For more interesting reading on Australian native bees look for the following resources:
Leech, M. (2013) Bee Friendly: A planting guide for European honeybees and Australian native pollinators, Australian Rural Industries Research & Development Corporation, Australia.
Free eBook rirdc.infoservices.com.au/items/12-140
Purdie, D. (2016) The Bee Friendly Garden: Easy ways to help the bees and make your garden grow, Murdoch Books, Australia.
The Ag Guide Australian Native Bees, (2016) Department of Primary Industries, NSW. (hard copy or eBook version)
And finally an interesting discussion with Dr Megan Halcroft on the importance of bees in Australia, Do you realise how much you rely on bees? ABC NSW Radio, broadcasted on March 7, 2027.