Looking to purchase new property with a small footprint and a big return on investment?
What if you could build a house for pennies and fill it with tenants who get right to work improving the house and the whole neighborhood?
Sound good? Then it’s time to invest a bee house!
Meet The Renters
Native Solitary Bees, also known as pollen bees, account for approximately 90% of bee species native to Texas. Because these bees are not honey producers and don’t have the ‘job’ of protecting and providing for a hive, they’re not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees only sting when provoked (smashed, swatted or sprayed) and they’re safe to have in the garden.
The most common bees to take up residency are mason bees, leafcutter bees, carpenter bees and sweat bees. A couple hundred of these friendly neighbors can pollinate as many flowers as a thousand honeybees!
In Spring and Summer, a female bee will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house, fill it with food, lay eggs, seal the room shut, and then move on to her next nest. She won’t revisit or defend the nest. Once the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the stored food, winter inside the nest and then emerge in the spring to start the cycle all over again, providing you an endless stream of renters and pollinators!
Hard Hats Required: Construction Zone
Bee houses come in many shapes and sizes; something roughly the size of a birdhouse is common for most urban landscapes. Whether purchasing a pre-made one or building on your own, consider the following:
Be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood – the chemicals deter would-be inhabitants. If you want to up the curb appeal you can paint the roof and sides; just allow a few weeks for the smell to wear off before bees will move in.
Provide a variety of “room” sizes for bees to choose from – about 1/8″ to 1/2″. A variety of materials provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting: bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches. Commercial premade nesting tubes or blocks are also available. Whatever material you choose, make sure the tubes are all cut 6″ to 8″ deep, allowing plenty of room for bees to nest. Use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges at the ends. Make (or purchase) extra tubes so you can change out rotten or damaged ones over time.
The back of the house should be closed and the front open. A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2″ over the front.
After collecting your materials, fill the frame with various sized rooms and add in some bits of nature (pinecones, branches, foliage) in any gaps around the sides, to make the bees feel at home. If you’re concerned about birds or other predators, cover the front of the house with chicken wire.
Room With A View
Find a spot in your yard within 300 feet of plants that flower, aka bee food. Distance is important as some native bees don’t travel very far to find food. Place the house on the south side of a building, fence post or tree that gets morning sun and afternoon shade. The higher the better: place the house a minimum of 3′ from the ground.
Avoid hanging your house from a pole or hook; it will swing too much to be considered a safe home by bees. Best to have the back of the house flush with a sturdy object. Once your house has residents, DO NOT MOVE! If you must relocate, wait until November when most of the tubes will be filled with eggs waiting to hatch in the spring.
Bee houses require little maintenance; however check periodically that the house remains dry and no mold or mildew is occurring. Look for signs of pollen mites, chalkbrood, and parasitic wasps. All are threats to your bee house.
Your bees may be fine on their own, but the best way to prevent the spread of parasites and disease is to “harvest” your cocoons at the end of the season, or around mid-November. To do this, simply open the nesting tubes and remove the contents. Separate the cocoons from any debris and wash them off in a bowl of cool water. Then place into a container, such as a Tupperware with air holes, in the fridge. Store your cocoons through the winter until temperatures break 50 degrees consistently. At that point, they can be placed in an open container, outside near their nest.
To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built.
If not harvesting, consider replacing the tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.
To provide the best long-term housing option, AVOID PESTICIDES in your landscape, certainly around the bee house.
Identifying the types of bees in your neighborhood and meeting their specific needs will help you become the best landlord you can be. Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.
Get your bee house buzzing with activity then sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!