The Bee Hotel: Encouraging Wildlife in our Garden

Published in Nature Watch

Having offered hospitality to a young swallow family earlier in the year, Marion and Zzdravko decided to extend their facilities to welcome bees.

Honey bee Honey bee Photo: Marion Podolski

It turned out to be a very rewarding learning experience! "To encourage wildlife in our garden, we built what we thought would be a 'bee hotel'. As it turned out, more properly I should call it a bug hotel, with an annexe for bees. As we’ve expanded our range of garden plants this year, we’ve been visited by more bees. Over the long, dry summer, they especially seemed to enjoy drinking the water from the saucers of our large pots. To help, we added a special “bee pond” in a shallow dish with pebbles so they could climb in and out without drowning. It was popular not just with the bees, but also attracted some local toads come nightfall.

Bug hotel in Rastoke / Slunj. Photo: Marion Podolski

Wanting to help further, we thought to build a bee hotel. On a trip to Rastoke a couple of years ago, we were very taken with their Bug hotel (Hotel za kukce), beautifully rustic with a collection of natural materials.

Grand bee hotel at Threave. Photo: Marion Podolski

And then again, this summer in Scotland we saw the rather grander “Bee at Threave” hotel. They had also thoughtfully planted a wildflower meadow beside the hotel – the best hotels have restaurants, I guess. Armed with those ideas, back in Vrboska we collected some pine-cones, dead branches and old needles from our walks. A nice wooden box from Bauhaus provides the walls and backing, and a couple of spare roof tiles will keep the rain off. All it needs now is some chicken wire or similar to keep it all in.

Our bug hotel. Photo: Marion Podolski

Except this is not a suitable bee hotel! Most people would have read up on the subject before getting this far, but there you go, better late than never! What we have built is a bug hotel. It will be great for creatures like ladybirds and perhaps butterflies, earwigs, etc. But not bees.

Solitary bee (Osmia rufa). Photo: Marion Podolski

Solitary bees aka Mason bees (Osmia bicornis and the like), are different to the honey bees (Apis mellifera) that live in colonies and produce honey. The solitary female bees like to make a nest and lay their eggs in small tunnels. They lay the eggs for the next generation of females at the back, and eggs for the males towards the front. Between each egg they construct a mud wall – hence the nickname “mason” bee. The male bees, being smaller, hatch first and wait around at the entrance to the nest to mate with the females as they emerge.

Bee hotel logs. Photo: Marion Podolski

The preferred nesting sites are narrow tubes, closed at the back, such as reeds or holes in logs, rocks, etc. With our new understanding, we cut some dry logs, and drilled holes of various sizes in them. These should now be mounted somewhere they will catch the morning sun, as the bees like to be warm, but not roasted. Your solitary wasps, on the other hand, prefer shady nesting tunnels.

Different-sized holes drilled. Photo: Marion Podolski

Unfortunately our new-found knowledge of bees does not extend to recognising individual types when we see them. There are currently lots of bees at the mounds of ivy flowers along the local pathways, some of which will be honeybees, some bumblebees, and others must belong to the Osmia varieties, of which the most common hereabout is the Osmia bicornis/rufa. Any help on correct identification of the bees in my photos would be appreciated! This rather striking  larger flying bug that visited our courtyard last week (maybe 2.5cm long) turned out to be a male Mammoth wasp, Megascolia maculata. Females are larger and have yellow heads.

Mammoth wasp, Megascolia maculata (male). Photo: Marion Podolski

We’ll get these hotels installed on the courtyard walls, and hopefully will see some activity over the winter. Incidently, we now realise that our rough stone walls are actually a perfect nesting habitat in their own right!"

Rough stone wall, the perfect bug habitat! Photo: Marion Podolski

© Marion Podolski 2017.

Sources:
Wikipedia: Insect hotels

Acknowledgement:

This article first appeared in Marion's inspired blog 'Go Hvar', which covers a delightful eclectic range of artistic and epicurean topics as well as items about the natural environment. We at Eco Hvar are very grateful for the permission to reproduce material from the blog. 

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