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January insect hotels

I’ve been seeing a lot more attention being placed on having insect hotels in our backyards to encourage beneficial pollinating insects to visit our gardens. Surprisingly, these hotels are really only designed for one type of insect even though it looks like there are several different housing options in the latest designs. Insect hotels are the perfect spots for solitary bees like Miners, Carpenters and Leaf cutters. These bees represent almost 90% of the bee population. Important to know, solitary bees do not swarm, do not make honey and for the most part, have no stingers. They do however pollinate our vegetables and flowers. While only actively collecting pollen for 4-6 weeks in the summer, they also feed on several other species of insects, many of which are bad for the plants.

If you are thinking about adding a safe space for your own local population of solitary bees, there are a few things you should know.

These bees like to lay eggs and larvae in abandoned holes from beetles and woodpeckers. Having wood blocks with holes drilled into them is an easy way to attract female bees looking for a spot for larvae. That said; make sure that you have various sizes of holes in your wood block by changing the size of the drill bit. Different species prefer different sized openings. Also make sure to make the walls of your drilled hole as smooth as possible by repeatedly drilling into the wood in the same spot. This will help remove splinters and sharp edges, which are not ideal for the young larvae.

Drilled holes should never go all the way through the wood. This not only makes for a wind tunnel, but the bees will have to seal each end to protect their young from predators. In addition to a solid back wall, you’ll need to provide some sort of sloped roof that will protect the sealed end from rain and moisture. When the seal gets wet, it will begin to breakdown allowing for fungus and bacteria to enter into the tube and destroy the young. This is also why wood is preferable to glass or plastic structures, which can develop condensation and mildew.

Many Insect hotels will also include bamboo tubes that have been trimmed down to provide many different sized openings that can be used by solitary bees. These are ideal as the bamboo has natural walls inside the tube. These walls provide a back-enclosure, making them safer for laying mothers. In addition to bamboo, you can use the dried stems from wild flowers. In both cases, you will need to attach them to the walls of the insect hotel to prevent the wind or marauding birds from pulling them out and destroying the larvae.

Having peaceful solitary bees in your backyard is a great way to educate your children on the interconnectivity of nature. Safe and beneficial, these bees are the hardest workers in our gardens. Encouraging them to be in your yard by providing them a home just makes a lot of sense. So this spring, start with one small hotel and slowly grow your insect population, one building at a time.


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