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All About Those Bee Houses

Sarah Heidtke, Master Gardener

Bee house? Pollinator palace? Bug hotel? Check out some ideas for building pollinator real estate with the child in your life and find out why we may want to invite pollinators into our yards and gardens!

All About Those Bee Houses

A quick search of the internet finds all kinds of simple or fancy kits for making bee houses. These are for solitary bees that travel alone and lay their eggs, not the bees like honeybees that live in a group hive.

Here’s one child-friendly idea to try at home:

  1. Select the shelter. I found that a round tissue holder was just the right size for my 8 in tunnels, but see what you have around your house and yard.  The container should be open on one side, closed on the back and have a way for rain to run off.  You can decorate the house with paints or markers if you like, or leave it just as it is.  Bees like all kinds of decor!

  2. Make or find your tunnels.  Here, I used a combination of empty toilet paper rolls to hold everything in place, some of last year’s dried plant stems (hosta and hydrangea - they have little tunnels just right for a solitary bee to burrow inside), and some paper that I rolled around a pencil and secured with a bit of tape.  Different sized tubes are nice for different bees.

  1. Secure your bee house in a location with morning sun, evening shade, and some shelter from the wind.  I found a great spot where the tree branch meets the trunk of the tree and used some twine to secure the bee house.

Observe your bee house from a little distance and see who moves into your new pollinator apartments.  See up close how a mason bee builds and uses its nest in the diagram from the University of Minnesota - Extension below:

Why would we want to invite bees to our outdoor spaces?  

Well, besides being pretty interesting creatures to observe, bees are part of a special group called pollinators.  This group includes bees, plus butterflies, moths, wasps, flies, beetles and birds. Pollinators are important because they help plants grow fruit and seeds! When a pollinator stops by a flower on a plant to drink up some nectar (the pollinator version of a yummy and nutritious smoothie before they continue on their way), they pick up some pollen dust on their bodies.  The next time they land on a flower, they drop off some of this pollen and fertilize that plant.  Then comes the fruit with seeds inside.  So, think about apples, strawberries, pumpkins and a whole lot of other foods and flowers.  If you like any of those, the pollinators are definitely helping you!

So where does the new house come in? Well, after all that hard work, pollinators need a safe and sheltered place to rest and raise their young.  They don’t need fancy accommodations, but pollinators do appreciate:

  • a place to cool down and shelter from the wind, rain and hot afternoon sun

  • a place to lay eggs and overwinter

  • an accessible water source

  • a nice buffet of pollinator-friendly plants like coneflower, milkweed and bee balm nearby

You may know about “social” pollinators like honeybees that live in a hive with many other bees, but did you know we can also provide a habitat for helpful “solitary” pollinators such as mason bees.  About 15% of bees nest on their own and lay eggs in cavities (tunnels) like the hollow tubes of dead plants or in spaces they find in brush piles.  Consider installing a bee house any time during the year and you could be helping native solitary bees find their favorite apartment!

Are you interested in reading to learn more about pollinator habitats? Take a look at these books, available through Dakota County Library:

Nature’s Best Hope (Young Readers Edition) by Douglas W. Tallamy

“This middle grade edition of the groundbreaking bestseller will inspire kids to use their backyard to help save the plant.  Tallamy encourages kids to take direct action.  Some of these ideas include planting an oak tree (one of the most important tree species) at home.  If that’s too large of a task, he suggests they can plant asters - a beautiful flower whose pollen bees use to feed their young.”

Turn This Book Into a Beehive! And 19 Other Experiments and Activities That Explore the Amazing World of Bees by Lynn Brunelle

“[This book] lets kids make a difference in the world - building a home where bees can thrive is one small but critical step in reversing the alarming trend of dwindling bee populations” - provided by publisher

Interested in even more information about this topic?

Photo Credit: Sarah Heidtke (1,2,3,4)

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