Encouraging wildlife in our courtyard garden – opening a bee hotel!

More properly, I should say 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.

Honeybee

Honeybee

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 kokce), beautifully rustic with a collection of natural materials.

Bug hotel in Rastoke /Slunj

Bug hotel in Rastoke /Slunj

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.

Grand bee hotel at Threave

Grand bee hotel at Threave

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

Our bug hotel

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

Solitary bee – Osmia rufa

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

Bee hotel logs

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

Different-sized holes drilled

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 be one of 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! Also, there was this rather striking  larger flying bug that visited our courtyard last week (maybe 2.5cm long). Update: this is a male Mammoth wasp, Megascolia maculata.Females are larger and have yellow heads.

Mammoth wasp, Megascolia maculata

Mammoth wasp, Megascolia maculata (male)

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

Rough stone wall

More…

Wikipedia: Insect hotels

Wikipedia: Mason bees / Solitary bees

Agroklub: Hoteli za divlje pcele

Solitarne pčele article by Marija Ševa

Wikipedia: Mammoth wasp

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