Are you looking to purchase new property with a small footprint but a big return on investment? Nervous that you might not find the right renters or worried about the upkeep on another home?
What if you could build the house for pennies, be guaranteed several long-term renters and get your return on investment almost immediately?
Then it’s time to build 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 are not aggressive and are fine around children and pets. Most solitary bees will only sting when provoked (i.e. smashed or squished) and are safe to observe 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, females will select a cavity or ‘room’ in your bee house and 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 can be any shape or size, though the size of a birdhouse, roughly 8” x 12” is common for most urban landscapes. Make sure the depth of the bee house is at least 6 to 8 inches to allow plenty of room for bees to nest.
When building a frame, make sure that the back is closed and the front is open. A roof will help keep rain out and should extend 2 inches over the front of the house.
When choosing wood, be sure to avoid pressure-treated wood as the chemicals used will deter bees. If you want to up the curb appeal of your bee house and add a coat of paint, be aware that the paint and sealant will deter bees for a few weeks until the smell wears away.
For the “rooms” of the house, provide a variety of sizes for bees to choose from. There are many materials that can provide dark tunnels perfect for nesting: bamboo, hollow reeds, cardboard tubes, small logs or tree branches. Whatever material you choose, make sure they are all cut to fit the depth of your bee house. If drilling holes, be sure to provide a range of sizes from 1/8” to ½” in diameter and use sandpaper to smooth any rough edges caused by the drill.
Several companies now offer premanufactured nesting tubes or blocks to insert into your frame. These tubes allow for pieces to be removed if any damage, rot or disease occurs. If interested in harvesting and storing bee cocoons, these removable options are great. To learn more about harvesting solitary bees, check out this video by Bee Built below.
After collecting your materials, fill the frame with the various sized rooms and add in some bits of nature (pine cones, branches, foliage) to make the bees feel at home. If concerned about birds or other predators, cover the front of the house with chicken wire
Room With A View
Find an area in your yard that is near where the bees will forage for food. A radius of 300 feet is ideal. 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 feet 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 and emerge 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.
Harvesting cocoons each winter will decrease the chance for larvae to become a victim to pests or disease. If not harvesting, consider replacing tubes every few years to reduce potential disease or infestations that are harmful to your bees.
To provide a long term housing option, remember to NOT spray insecticides on or around the bee house.
The best way to keep up with your bee house is to become familiar with who your neighbors are. Identifying the types of bees and addressing their needs and common concerns will be very helpful in providing the best home for these pollinators. Check out the free iNaturalist app for help in identifying and documenting the activity in your yard.
Once your bee house is buzzing with renters, sit back and enjoy your new neighbors!