Close your eyes and imagine a place where bees might live. Did you think of a waxy hive hanging from a branch or trays of honeycombs in a wooden box? Depending on where you grew up and how much contact you have had with wild bees, you might even imagine a bee garden or just a hollow stump. There is another popular spot for bees to live and it’s in bee houses.

If you’re already a bee lover, you might know that just 10% of bees are social bees, like honey bees and bumble bees. This means that most bees do not live in hives, but rather various individual nesting sites. Carpenter bees choose homes in wood, while mason bees find homes in hollow reeds or plant stems. Man-made structures like bee houses can provide ample nesting space for solitary bees meaning more thriving bee populations and a pollinator-friendly garden.

Why Build a DIY Bee House

A thriving world means a thriving bee population, and vice versa. When our ecosystem is healthy and free of pollutants, invasive plants and animal species, parasites, and pathogens, bees are able to reproduce and flourish without problem.The world’s bee population contributes to prosperous wild flora and food crop production. 

More Pollinators Mean More Blooms

The number one reason why bees are so key to a thriving ecosystem is because they are the top pollinator. Much of the food we eat including melons, broccoli, tree fruits, and berries need to be pollinated in order to be produced. So without bees, there would be a lot of food that would disappear for good. 

Bees are just as important for your own garden to thrive as well. If you’re growing flowering plants or trees, you’ll need some type of pollinator if you want them to release their bright, crepey blooms. 

Save the Bees

With bee populations rapidly declining, it’s becoming glaringly obvious that we don’t just need bees, but bees also need us. Besides advocating against climate change and calling for a reduction in pesticides, creating a safe environment for bees will help increase their numbers.

Bee housing provides a space for bees to reproduce and rest, while keeping them safe from predators. 

Build Your Own DIY Bee House

If you’re tempted by a garden filled with blossoming red roses, and a world with a prospering ecosystem, it’s time to get to building a bee house for your garden. Even if you don’t have any carpentry skills, constructing a house for solitary bees isn’t too difficult. 

Start Small

A wooden bee house is filled with reeds and logs of different sizes. The logs have a variety of different hole sizes drilled into them. 
Photo by Eva Bronzini on Pexels 
A two story bee house is a great size for most gardens.

As with any strong final product, you have to start off with a solid foundation. When learning how to make a bee house, you’ll want to start small. Too big of a bee house can create competition and other issues among different bees. Plus, by keeping too many bees in one space, it’ll make it easy for predators to wipe out a lot of your flying friends at once.

For the simplest design, you can construct a cube, leaving one of the sides open. You can also search your house or a thrift store for a wooden box, which can also be a top-notch foundation for your bee house. It’s also very important that your bee house has some sort of overhang. If it doesn’t, it will get wet and cause your larvae to suffer as well as invite mold and mite growth. 

Choose a Quality Spot

Bees need the bright rays of the sun in order to warm up and get their day started. As cold blooded creatures, they will not thrive in the shade. Orient your bee house so that it faces south or south east. If you live in a very hot climate, you can try to find a spot that will be in the shade during the afternoon heat. 

You’ll also want to choose a spot near those blooming bushes and trees. Mason bees only fly about 300 feet to look for nectar so you’ll want to choose a location that isn’t further than that. 

Secure It Up High

It’s possible you’ve already seen a bee house hanging from a string, but unfortunately this is not conducive to a healthy home. Bees are notoriously bad at landing, which means they can struggle to get themselves into the house on a windy day. The wind can also knock growing bees off of the food they’re eating. Plus, securing your house to a pole, tree or shed will keep it away from small animals. 

Avoid Problematic Materials

A wooden bee house is filled with a variety of different sized wooden reeds.
Photo by Meg G on Unsplash
Wooden reeds offer a breathable and varied nesting material for multiple bee types.

A bee house can do more harm than good. Certain materials like plastic and bamboo don’t dry easily, which means mildew, mold, or mites can infest the bees’ home. For a healthy bee house, it’s imperative to use breathable materials like reeds, paper straws, and natural woods.

If you’re planning on purchasing a bee house, you also want to avoid any that have their inner materials glued down. This makes them impossible to clean, which is necessary once a year. 

You’ll also want to avoid any netting with holes that are too small. This can keep predators out, but it can also inhibit bees from taking off as well as cause damage to their wings. Keep netting at least two inches away from the nesting materials and openings about ¾ of an inch large. 

Keep Up with Regular Maintenance

Above all, regular bee care should be on the top of your to-do list when it comes to your bee house. Many people buy bee houses expecting them to be as low maintenance as bird houses, but unfortunately without proper care, your bee house can end up being a death trap.

A poorly cared for bee house is a breeding ground for parasites, disease, mildew, and mites. Some bees can become so completely covered in mites that they are unable to fly. This means you must commit to proper care when adding a bee house to your garden.

Every winter, your bee house will need to be stored somewhere like a shed or a garage where the larvae will be safe from the bitter cold. Then, you have to clean out your bee house every spring once the larvae have grown and left home. For reeds and blocks of wood, this might mean composting and replacing your materials each spring. 

You can also try filling your blocks of wood with paper inserts, which will allow you to empty out the old cocoons more easily. Some sellers offer reusable wood trays which can be easily opened up and cleaned. These also retain the bees’ nesting scent, which will attract next season’s bees. 

Welcome Mason Bees

A close up of this bee house’s nesting materials reveals wooden logs and reeds that have holes filled with clay and mud.
Photo by Waldemar Brandt on Unsplash
A larva is nestled in each of these covered nesting holes.

There are hundreds of species of solitary bees, but one of the most common is the Mason bee. The hard-working mason bee gets its name from the fact that it uses mud to build its home. Did you notice in the picture above that the holes in the wood and the reeds are filled with mud or clay? 

This is from the Mason bees who plug the holes in so that their larvae are safe from potential predators. Inside, the mother leaves food for her baby to eat until it is strong enough to leave its home itself. Mason bees will thrive within materials like reeds, paper straws, and natural woods and prefer 8mm diameter nesting holes.

Cater to Carpenter Bees

Carpenter bees have their name for a reason and can actually construct their own holes within wood. So while carpenter bees might enjoy a spot in a predrilled hunk of wood, you can also just offer them chunks of undrilled wood. These bees prefer soft wood, which means a little house made out of pine with a roof will work perfectly. 

Empty Bee House?

You did it! Your bee house is ready to thrive, but there’s just one problem. Your bee house is sitting in your garden and it’s completely empty. There are a few things that can keep bees away from your home including:

  • Toxic lawn and garden chemicals
  • Lack of florals
  • Lack of mud and leaves to build their nests
  • They’re still hibernating

For a cost effective way to attract more bees to your bee house, try keeping your yard a little messier. Fallen branches and leaves, muddy spots on your lawn, and unpruned bushes are all great when you’re a bee looking for your new home. 

Time to Get as Busy as a Bee

Taking better care of the environment can be a thankless job. These bees aren’t going to be scribbling you a thank you note any time soon, but there is nothing quite like knowing you’re doing your part to make the world a better place.

As important as it is to do your research when learning how to build a bee house, anything you do to create a more welcoming and safe environment for the bees is a step in the right direction. 

Written By

Calli Zarpas

  • Click here to share on Twitter
  • Click here to share on Facebook
  • Click here to share on LinkedIn
  • Click here to share on Pinterest