What Are Bee Houses, Exactly?
Bee houses look a lot like bird houses, but instead have little tubes for bees to take up residence and lay eggs. Understanding how these little houses work starts with knowing a bit about the behaviors of native bees. About 80% of bee species prefer to nest in the ground. Another 5% don’t make nests at all. But around15% make homes in cavities like holes in wood or hollow plant cavities. It’s this last 15% that you can help to save with bee houses. Many of these bees are known as leaf-cutter or mason bees. Some of them live in small groups while others prefer to live alone. Solitary, wild bees pollinate more than honey bees do—though honey bees tend to get all the credit! We can thank these non-aggressive bees for pollinating our food sources—from vegetables to nuts, and fruit trees.
Choosing A Safe Bee House
Unfortunately, the rising popularity of bee houses has encouraged some manufacturers to cash-in on the trend without considering bee safety. There are bee houses on the market that actually pose a threat to bee life. This is why it’s important to keep certain facts in mind while purchasing.
- Untreated lumber, non-toxic glue, and/or non-toxic paint.
- Houses with a roof that overhangs the house’s siding by a couple of inches.
- Tubes that are 6-8″ deep, ¼-⅓” in diameter.
- Tubes made from breathable materials that won’t retain moisture. Breathability is the key, since bee houses need to dry out after rain, and nesting bees produce moisture inside the tubes, which needs to evaporate keeping the bees inside healthy. Choose ones that have plenty of airflow surrounding them, such as plant stems, paper straws, wooden straws, or a log with holes drilled in it.
- Removable tubes—for replacement and cleaning.
You may also construct your own, using the safe materials listed above.
Consider getting supplies from our friends at Crown Bees! Buy now.
*DO NOT use bee houses made out of bamboo. Bamboo retains moisture for a long time, which will lead to fungus, pollen mites, and disease. Additionally, bamboo tubes are made up of sections, and sometimes those sections are blocked, which renders many of the tubes too short for bees to use.
How To Hang A Bee House
Hang a bee house three to six feet off the ground where it will receive direct sunlight every morning (facing south). Place it on something solid—a post, shed wall, or tree. To make your bee house even more attractive to bees, put it next to black-eyed Susan, bee balm, or purple coneflower. Stay away from bird feeders or ponds.
Warning: bee houses make an easy target for birds who eat insects. Use metal netting or a screen around the bee house to keep the birds out.
When Will Bees Move into My Bee House?
Mason bees emerge during early spring when temperatures rise to the 50s and early flowers start to bloom. Leaf-cutter bees show up at the beginning of summer. Bees mate during late spring through early summer and they move into your bee house during early summer.
Will Wasps Take Up Residence in My Bee House?
Yes, certain wasps do live in bee houses. Paper wasps may build nests on the structure itself. Mud daubers, another type of wasp, may also make nests out of mud either along the structure or inside the tubes.
The best way to prevent this from happening is to use tubes that are the right diameter for bees. Use tubes with a 5/16” to 3/8” inside diameter to attract larger mason bees and smaller 1/4” diameter tubes to attract leafcutter bees.
Another strategy is to use a “bee condo,” which is a stackable wooden tray with tunnels in it. If you see tubes plugged with something other than mud (for mason bees) or leaves (for leafcutter bees), then that’s indicative of a pest infestation. You can take the blocks apart to scrape out the cocoons inside.
Bee House Maintenance
Bee houses can be left out year-round—especially if you have plugged tubes, which is a sign that fully developed cocoons are nesting inside! If you’re worried about extremely cold temperatures, place the filled tubes in an unheated barn or shed where temperatures stay between 36-39 degrees. In the spring, put the tubes in a cardboard box with an exit hole for the new bees. Once all of them have emerged, wash and brush the tubes with warm soapy water and a mild bleach solution. You may also choose to replace the tubes rather than wash them.
Bee houses are a fun way to attract super pollinators to your garden and keep your buzzing friends happy and healthy.
Do you have a bee house in your yard … or would you consider getting one?
Let us know in the comments below!
Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental, and green living topics.