The majority of our food crops benefit from pollinator bees, however the decline of these insects continues to be a huge concern.
There are many types of pollinator bees. Most common ones are honey bees, bumble bees and orchard mason bees.
Mason bees, named after their masonry skills for nesting in wood cracks and crevices, are active from early spring to late summer in our region. Although these solitary, non-stinging bees do not produce honey or beeswax, they are excellent pollinators.
You can encourage their pollinating habits by hanging mason bee boxes in your garden this spring. Mason bee homes or kits can be purchased from any garden store. However, you can turn this into a fun kids project and make your own mason bee hotel. All you need are some nesting tubes and a container.
Here are three easy DIY mason bee nest projects to get children involved with their environment and interested in helping the bees.
Birch bee hotel
Birch trees shed their outer bark at the end of winter. This is the perfect time to collect the excess bark and use it as nesting material.
Gently cut the excess bark off the tree without damaging it.
To make the nesting tubes, cut the bark into 7″ wide pieces…
…then cut off the curled ends to get a straight edge on either side.
In most cases the bark consists of two plies and can be separate into two pieces to double the amount originally collected.
Next, with a pencil (or thin dowel) roll the bark peel into a thin tube. A pencil is the perfect size for this step, as it provides the right size diameter for the nesting tunnel.
Secure the tube with clothes pins and set aside for 24 hours. This will allow for the birch peel to keep its tunnel shape.
Remove clothes pins the next day.
Time to assemble the bee hotel. The nest frame can be of any shape. You can use empty tin cans or purchase 5″ to 8″ deep wooden boxes from the dollar store.
Side note: Make sure the back side of the chosen box is closed. If not, you can always add a piece of wood to close it yourself.
Add the nesting tubes into the wooden box. Push them all the way to the back while tightly stacking them on top of each other.
Decorate the nest box with colourful trinkets. We decided to decorate our mason bee hotel with fresh moss, stick-on flowers and rhinestones. Simple designs and, to a certain extent, colours help the bees locate their own nesting tunnels.
Bamboo bee hotel
A quicker way for making a mason bee nest, is to use 6′ long bamboo poles. They are inexpensive and can be purchased at the dollar store.Cut the bamboo poles with a saw (or electric saw) every 5″.
Side note: You can cut between the nodes to get hollow 5″ tubes or you can keep the node on one side and cut the pole right after it, in order to get a single hollow opening on the opposite side.
Place the tubes in a a wooden box, stacking them up tightly.
Decorate the nest to assist the bees in locating their individual tunnels.
Drilled mason bee hotel
This is the easiest way for making a mason bees’ nest, but it requires power tools.
Drill 5/16″ diameter holes into a 6″ deep untreated piece of lumber or log. The holes should be about 1″ apart and drilled about 5″ deep into the wood.
Hang the nests individually or stacked up as shown below.
For a more unique look, construct a bee hotel by mixing and matching materials, i.e. include drilled logs, bamboo tubes and birch peel tubes to form one mega-nest.
Add natural elements for decorations, like moss, lichen, pine needles, spruce branches, alder catkins, pine cones, leaves, rocks, sea shells, etc.
Setting the nest
Early spring is the ideal time to hang mason bee houses, as the bees emerge from hibernation eager to find a nesting place.
In order to see the bees come and go, hang the nests at eye level on a south facing wall with morning sunlight. In addition, make sure to place the nests in an area protected from the rain (on a deck, under eaves, etc.).
To increase your chances of attracting mason bees, consider planting pollinator flowers such as wildflowers, asters, lilies, poppies, marigold, lavender, sage, basil, lupines, and flowering fruit trees or shrubs.
So, encourage your kids to learn more about pollinators this season by making and hanging mason bee hotels in the back yard.
“Bee-ild it and they will come”
Happy pollinating season!
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