a french garden

Mason bee hotels or houses

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We have been having our share of cold weather this week. Our weather is still very tempered by our position and proximity to the Atlantic Ocean so I am talking about temperatures dipping below zero centigrade at nightime and rising to a high of 7 or 8 degrees during the day.  From comments I am receiving on the blog, I get the feeling that a lot of gardeners are nevertheless eager to get their seeds sorted and start with the spring planning.  If you are restricted in your gardening activities at the moment, it might be the time to think about building or looking for a bee hotel.

My first bee hotel had been a gift that had languished under the lilac tree until in March 2013 I had seen the male Osmia checking out the holes in search of newly hatched females. (Short Mason Bee Update).

I found watching the bees as they nested fascinating and decided to add more bee hotels to the garden. (New Mason Bee Nests)

I decided to examine the best places to mount the bee hotels and monitor the best designs and sizes of holes.

Osmia leiana

What I discovered is that it doesn’t matter!

Megachile at bee hotel

Once you have provided the holes, the visitors will begin to arrive.

Solitary wasp

You are likely to see more than just bees.  I get solitary wasps.  These are not aggressive creatures so no worry about being attacked and stung, unless you are a caterpillar!  These solitary wasps are the gardeners’ friend and will stock their nests with caterpillars and other goodies for their carnivorous larvae.

Osmia ...

If you give them a varied selection of holes and hollow stems, they will do the rest.   Here is an Osmia bee (I think caerulescens ) cleaning out the holes drilled in a cut log.  This is in June.  Some bees will come to my garden in March or April, others will come in the summertime and others may return for a second time in the same year.

Megachile emerging

I must admit to have been pretty excited the first time I saw a bee emerging from “my” bee house in May 2014. This is the very bamboo cane that had been so carefully sealed with a rose petal by a Megachile the previous September.

Heriades t.

It is also exciting is to watch which bees decide to take up residence.  This little bee (Heriades truncorum, I think) is less than a centimetre long and as well as nesting in the bamboo canes was also quite happy to use the much finer old, cut stems of my Leycesteria formosa (Himalayan nutmeg.)

So the most important action is to put something up.  Whether it be approaching a work of art or some hollow stems stuffed into an empty plastic bottle: there are lots of ideas out there on the web.  I think they like the sunny spots but all my bee hotels have been used, even the ones in shady places.  If you hope to photograph the nests you should think about having good natural light available as you will need to be using a fast shutter speed.

For the curious, like me, there is also a solitary bee nest that can be opened so that you can see exactly what has been happening over the summertime.  I found it on http://www.wildlifeworld.co.uk/p/solitary-bee-hive?pp=24

I did not buy it until the end of the summer but I could not resist putting it up, although I thought it was much too late to attract any interest.

Anthea

But then on the 29th. of September last year Anthea arrived.  Yes, it has got that bad!  I’ve started giving them names – Anthea, the Anthidium manicatum.

Anthidium chooses wrong hole

We had lots fun watching her bringing her bales of cotton to make her nest.  She harvests her cotton wool by clipping off the soft hairs that cover the grey/green leaves of plants like sage, stachys, artemisia and verbascums.  But sometimes she gets it wrong and flies into the wrong hole and makes a hasty turnaround like she has done here, to return to the correct one.

Anthidium cocoons

In the middle of December I decided to take my boxes down and I had a look at the inside of the new box.  The cocoons were beautiful with no sign of mites.  I will take another look before the bees come back to see if they have survived the winter intact.

I also decided to buy some nesting tubes and paper liners from the same site, Wildlife World.  The tubes are well cut and will save time as I have been promised another new bee hotel for this year 🙂

Lizard in bee hotel

One problem I have had is that our lizards love to sun themselves on top of the bamboo stems of the bee hotels.  However, to make themselves really comfortable, they kick out the tubes.  This year the tubes must be firmly wedged with pieces of wood so that not even the strongest lizard can displace them.

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Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

35 thoughts on “Mason bee hotels or houses

  1. Thank you, especially for the link to the solitary bee hive. Grat idea I may try to duplicate on my own.

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    • There are lots of ideas for making insect hotels. I think the fun part is never knowing what guests you will have. If you do make one I’d be very interested to see what takes up residence. Amelia

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  2. A brilliant summary of your bee hotels and how to use them, Amelia.
    Thank you. Do you overwinter them somewhere in the dry, or leave them outside the whole time? And if over wintered, when do you put them outside again?
    BW
    Julian

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    • They do not need to be brought inside and some of mine are attached to trees and would be difficult to remove. However, the ones that are portable, I bring into an outbuilding that is dry but open along some part of the sides and so at outside temperature. It is just to have the extra assurance that they stay dry. I’ll put them out again in early March. Amelia

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      • 2014/15 is my first year of doing this and I have put the removable tubes and one bee house in to a dry shed that is NOT attached to the house so that everything stays cold. My main concern has been to keep everything dry as it rains a lot here but it also gives better security. Like Amelia I intend to put these out again in the first week of March.

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  3. Oh how lovely. As usual, you’ve provided a bee’s eye view of a world we otherwise never think to see.

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    • Not many people look. I remember looking at a large tuft of lavender in a street planting in the summer – I counted six different species of bees and no one else even glanced at them. I am glad you enjoy my photographs of them 🙂 Amelia

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  4. Lovely post… as per usual!!
    With a range of superb photos…
    I especially like the one that you can dismantle… the individual cells look lovely.
    What I find amazing is that the first laid has to be the last out…
    I would love to know how the system is…
    A] Worked &
    B] Triggered
    The one I accidentally destroyed by opening the ’56 2CVs door had 20 cells all the way down the door pillar… I still feel miserable about that!!

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    • A solitary bee expert told me that males tend to be slightly smaller than females and hatch out earlier in the year to be ready for the females. Bearing this in mind, I wonder whether females would be laid first at the back, followed by males at the front.

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      • The solitary bees are certainly able to control the sex of their offspring like the queen honey bee. The females are laid at the back and the males at the front. In some species the males are larger like Anthidium manicatum. Another reason for laying male eggs at the front of holes is proposed that it is these larvae that will be the first to be lost to predation. Some insects are able to oviposite through the sealed entrance of the nest. Amelia

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  5. I’m all for encouraging the bees, but we won’t be seeing any here for a while yet. It was -15F here this morning. (-26C)
    I seem to have quite a lot of different bees that visit the flowers in my yard but I don’t know where they live.

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    • They must find somewhere relatively warm, I’m presuming that they would not survive being frozen. I wonder if this means you have more mining bees that burrow deep into the ground? Honey bees keep together in a mass to stay warm but solitary bees cannot use this method. I would imagine any larvae wintering in flimsy wooden boxes would freeze in your weather. Amelia

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  6. Wonderful post and link Amelia, I’ve just taken a look at Wildlife World. I have a book “Bird, Bee and Bug Houses” by Derek Jones, that gives instructions on building your own wildlife houses, for the bees, he talks about siting them so they face the morning sun. By chance, this morning I spent some time pushing out the inners of bamboo canes with a view to making something for bees. Your enthusiasm is so infectious and encouraging and I love your photos and descriptions today.

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    • I would still position my nest where it best suited observation. They seem to prefer the hole rather than its position. We also have a bee nesting in the pole of our parasol and a hole in the side of our front step which is away from the sun. The hole in our stone step is quite large and close to the ground. It looks a far from an ideal spot but it was just perfect for a leaf cutting Megachile in late September! Cutting up bamboo canes can be quite tiring but it will be worth the trouble. You should try and look for some thin hollow stems as they might be used and are handy to plug the gaps (easier to cut too!) Amelia

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      • Thanks Amelia, I still have a lot of last years woody stemmed perennials to cut back yet, I may have some there. Its a tricky balance choosing when to cut back, if its too soon, I might disturb any old plants being used as a shelter. We obviously need to provide more places for nesting here.

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  7. I should try making something for the bees too. Your enthusiasm is catching! Thanks Amelia!

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  8. Your posts are so important in motivating us all to help the solitary bees. I must put some homes up in my allotment this year so that I can have some beautiful visitors too.

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    • That would be extremely interesting! Do you think they would co-habit contentedly or do you think they would keep clear of the honey bees? Sometimes the honey bees share the flowers and sometimes the flowers that the solitary bees like are not so attractive to the honey bees. Amelia

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  9. Excellent post. Last year was my first with a bee hotel to watch and it was fascinating. I hope this encourages more people to try them for themselves–and their bees, of course.

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  10. I love that you are naming your solitary visitors, it gives a real feeling to your bee hotel. Beautiful pictures Amelia 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  11. If there is a bee guide to the best accommodation in town, your place will be at the top of the list with a 5 star rating.

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  12. Pingback: A French Garden – A French Farm and French sunflower honey. | Premo from London Blog

  13. I’m waiting with great excitement for spring to see if anyone takes up residence in my bee hotel 🙂

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  14. Great post and really good photos. I was given a bee house for my birthday in October and it has been hanging in my kitchen ever since. I had almost forgotten about it having got used to seeing it everyday. Now I am excited to find a spot outside for it. I did not think about it getting the early sunshine. good tip.

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  15. Pingback: Anthidium manicatum carding wool | Bees in a French Garden

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