Updated: Nov 19, 2020
[Article written by Brittany Cooke]
It is becoming common to promote bee hotels. These hotels are specially made homes typically created using hollow tubing bound together and placed in a strong wooden frame, which focus on helping cavity-nesting species. The idea behind them is to create a safe home for solitary bees. I must admit that I was a huge promoter of these houses as they simply made sense, create a little cozy home in a man-made structure and the bees with flourish within urban environments. However I conversed with a bee keeper which altered my perspective and I believe this information is important to share. Before I continue, I want to make note that bee boxes are a thoughtful starting point for creating safe bee habitats. However when science is taken into account it becomes apparent that there are more natural alternatives which have presented higher percentages of thriving bees.
I had the lovely encounter with a long-time bee keeper last year at an environmental event. During our conversation, the topic of bee boxes arose where I mentioned how helpful they seem to be. After this comment they hesitated slightly, agreeing that the idea of the boxes is wonderful, however the productivity of them is much lower than most people realize. Bee boxes tend to have a fluctuating productivity rate depending on placement, size, height off the ground, materials used, and maintenance.
If placed in the shade, bee hotels will be more likely to attract wasps. Selecting an area that receives southeast sun in the morning is favorable since it warms up the bees before leaving their enclosure. If built too high, bees have been documented to abandon hotels because the excess flying expends energy. Size matters as well. If the drilled holes of a hotel entryway are too small, the ratio of male to female bees will become disproportionate since males are smaller than females. If the incorrect materials are used, this can lead to unhealthy living conditions. Some plastics may be prone to moulding, and if proper cleaning measures are not taken on even the best quality materials, this can lead to disease outbreak and infestation of parasites. Now this article is not meant to deter you from building a bee hotel, but there are many variables to take into consideration before deciding to add one to your property.
In contrast, there are more natural methods of creating bee habitat which have been scientifically proven to result in higher productivity. I would recommend practicing these natural methods first, and then add a supplementary bee hotel if desired (with proper research done beforehand). There are two common natural methods in particular which are easy to do. The first is leaving leaf litter piles in your yard during the fall months. It is common for homeowners to discard of leaf litter, however this is one of the best wintering homes that nature can offer bees. Another method is drilling holes in tree stumps. It may not sound like much, however this method has been very helpful in providing adequate shelter for several ground nesting species. Approximately 70% of North American bee species are ground nesters and so these natural methods are not only safer, but they target more species. I hope this article serves as a valuable piece of information. Keep yourself informed by doing lots of research and asking questions, the bees will thank you for it!