When I brought bees home seven years ago, I had not yet begun to fully notice all the insect life in my yard. But with the coming of the bees, my vision expanded. I would search the flowers for my bees, and see all sorts of other pollinating insects I did not know: Hover flies, certain wasps, many native bees and bumble bees, even pollinating beetles!
I wondered how best to steward these lovely creatures, besides providing pesticide-free forage, and in my quest, stumbled upon the idea of pollinator hotels: a place full of “holes” of all kinds.
Except for honeybees and bumbles, all our other native bees (more than 4,000 of them) live solitary lives. Some nest near each other for company, but each bee makes her own small nest. If you Google Mason bee houses, you will see images of small tubes set into a holder of some kind.
I decided to make a “mega” hotel, so for the past six years, I’ve collected any hollow stems in my yard as the season progresses: bamboo, valeria stems, old fox glove stalks, anything with any size hole. I stuff these stalks into a trash can, and once or twice a year, hubby John and I cut all the stalks into 6-8 inch lengths on our band saw.
Then, I start stuffing cans of all sizes. I set these cans on their sides, ends exposed to the yard, in a wooden unit that the previous homeowner left behind. So, I wind up with a two-shelf, covered “hotel” that each summer accommodated thousands of pollinators! So far, I’ve offered dwellings to mason bees, leaf cutter bees, wool carder bees, mining bees (in the dirt ground), grass-carrying wasps, and many of the super tiny native bees that look more like gnats than bees until you look at their little “bee eyes.”
Each year, I toss out many of the very old nest tubes, and just refresh everything. I’ve found that I enjoy sitting by my “hotel” and observing all the life that goes on there. I’ve watched the little mason bees hatch out, mate, and stuff and seal their small mud-marked homes. In late summer, the grass-carrying wasps come flying across the yard, holding fragile stems of old, dry grass. They pull these grass strands into holes I’ve drilled into old stumps, or even into the tubes on all my windchimes, and coil the grass into spirals inside.
Then—and I’ve watched this, too—they will fly in with a small green tree cricket that they have paralyzed, stuff it into their nest, lay an egg, and add more straw. Any given “tube” they will fill with 3 or 4 crickets to feed the larva that will hatch later.
I’ve never seen any sparing between species at the hotel. All seem to get along just fine. They could all teach our congress something about working together.
Because I keep my bees in small skeps, and I keep a maximum of 5 hives, I believe my hives are not depleting the local forage resources. Each year, I find more and more natives in my yard, nesting in the pollinator hotel, and in every other crevice on our property.
Putting up a nest for pollinators is as simple as stuffing a bunch of paper straws in a can and hanging it up out of the rain. Go on—make one, or 10!