How to attract bumbles to an artificial nest

If you’ve made or purchased a bumble bee box, you are probably wondering where to put it and how to attract tenants. I’ve scanned dozens of documents looking for the secret formula and learned that location is the most important criterion, followed by nesting material. Moisture control runs a close third. Even so, most bumble bee enthusiasts report an average occupancy rate of about 30 percent.

What follows is a summary of all the suggestions I found. I have a bumble house that I purchased several years ago that I use for show-and-tell, but I’ve never actually set it outside. After one more demonstration later this week, I’m finally going to try it. We get lots of bumbles here of various species, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Location

I’ll start with location since it is important and comprises many variables:

  • According to The Natural History of Bumblebees by Kearns and Thomson, “by far the best site is a south-facing bank.”
  • The box should be placed in full or partial shade. If the interior gets too hot, the larvae will cook. If the box will be in the sun part of the day, morning sun is better than afternoon sun.
  • The box opening should face the morning sun (east or southeast) even if it is not directly in the sun.
  • The box should be sheltered from the wind.
  • The entrance should be at ground level.
  • Other good nesting areas include:
    • Under a hedge
    • At the base of a fence
    • Alongside a garden shed or wood shed

Nesting Materials

Bumble bees do not collect nesting materials so they select nest sites that are already outfitted with the materials they need. In nature, they often select rodent burrows, birdhouses, leaf litter, or debris piles. You have a much better chance of attracting bumble bees if they approve of your choice. Possible nesting materials include:

  • Dry moss
  • Grass clippings
  • Shredded paper
  • Hamster bedding
  • Upholstery cotton or cotton batting (surgical cotton is too fine and may entangle their legs or wings)

By the way, if you have a two-chambered box, the nesting material goes in the inner one.

Moisture

A bumble bee may set up a nest only to move out if the nest becomes damp or water-logged. To control moisture, place the nest box on a concrete block and provide an over-hanging roof. You can also drill several small drainage holes in the floor of the box. Be sure the nest location is away from sprinklers.

Due to moisture problems, some people prefer to mount the boxes 8-12 inches off the ground, attached to a fence post or building. This above-ground entrance will work for some–but not all–species of bumble bee.

Forage

The nest should be placed within a half-mile of early blooming plants, but the closer the better. If you put the box in an area where bumbles are common, you have a better chance of attracting a nesting female.

Predators

Secure the box to avoid predation from small mammals such as opossums, raccoons, mice, weasels, voles, moles, and shrews that enjoy a savory meal of bee brood. Ants can also be a problem around bumble bee nests. Bumble bees like a secluded spot, so choose an area away from pets and human traffic.

Timing

In many parts of North America the early queens will start house-hunting by mid-February, as soon as the earliest flowers begin to bloom, so it’s not too soon to set out your box.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

 

Comments

Nick Holmes
Reply

Any benefits to anything like lemongrass like with a honey bee swarm trap?

Rusty
Reply

Nick,

That is exactly the information I set out to find and I came up blank. I searched and searched for some kind of attractant and found nothing. If you ever hear of anything like that, let me know.

John
Reply

Okay, I give. Why would I WANT to attrack bumble bees instead of honey bees? Yes, I understand that bumble bees pollinate other things that honey bees don’t, but honey bees provide honey & are a mostly gentle creature, & while bumble bees may be gentle, they don’t provide honey. So, what really good reason can you provide want to make me choose bumble bees over honey bees?

Rusty
Reply

John,

In order to have a healthy ecosystem, one that supplies us with (among other things):

Food
Seed
Forage crops (clover, alfalfa, lespedeza)
Cooking oils (safflower, canola)
Trees (for timber, fuel, recreation, shade, food)
Fiber crops (cotton, flax)
Industrial crops (meadowfoam)
Herbs, spices, fragrances
Recreation
Beauty (landscaping, floral design, meadows, forests)
Soil stabilization
Water purification
Medicine and
Habitat for other animals, we need to conserve all the bees and all the other pollinators.

And one more thing, who says you have to choose one over the other? It wasn’t me; I have both here, as well as mason bees, sweat bees, carpenter bees, digger bees, cuckoo bees, and on and on. Do I detect a closed mind?

Carole, Louisiana
Reply

Hi Rusty Lemongrass essential oil is analogous/similar to queen phermone, and seems to work quite well as a lure. There is a section on that subject in The Hive and the Honey Bee (the bee bible), but I don’t have my copy available to reference the section for you. I know a beekeeper who routinely uses a mix of lemongrass and spearmint essential oils to lure swarms into his traps. Last year I think he caught four…It’s the same combo in the commercial product Honey Bee Healthy .You only need 1 drop of each!

Rusty
Reply

Yes, I am very familiar with lemongrass and other essential oils in attracting honey bees. However, I was trying to find out if any of the essential oils have a similar effect on bumble bees. I can find no references that support that, but will be happy to read anything you can point me to.

Nick Holmes
Reply

John – Oh yes, as well, not instead. Bumblebees are severely in decline in the UK (lack of forage and neonicotinoids to blame probably), and pollinate things that honey bees don’t. I kinda got into honey bees for the sake of the species so why not give bumblebees a home too. Least you can do when they work so hard every day helping to make our food and nice flowers for us to look at.

John
Reply

Rusty, closed? No, just not open enough to actively pursue catching bumble bees. As mentioned in my 1st comment, I truly do know & understand why bumble bees are needed along with honey bees, I just prefer not to have them nesting in a very close proximity to me. I had a hard enough time convincing my family to let me start keeping honey bees, I would really have to be SUPER convincing to let them allow me bumble bees also.

While I am commenting, here is my 2-cents-worth on attracting honey bees. I just started beekeeping two years ago, so I still have a lot to learn, but I was able to attract 2 swarms into my hives last year & I believe a lot of it was location & luck.

I had 1 hive die my 1st winter of beekeeping. They didn’t die of starvation as the top super was completely full of honey when I checked on them in early spring. I, like many people, did a lot of web surfing to find out how to attract a swarm, but came up with no proven way, so I my took dead hive, & removed the full frames & placed 3 sleeves in & 7 new frames in supers & then placed the supers at 4 places were people had told they had seen swarms before. I was able to attract 2 swarms to move into two of them. 1 super remained empty, & the 4th became infected with moths.

Pure luck, probably, but i am going to try it again next spring.

Rusty
Reply

John,

That wasn’t pure luck, that was a good plan, and I’m glad it worked for you.

BTW, your family will come around. My husband, who swore he would have nothing to do with my bees ever, now has his own bee suit. You never know.

bill castro
Reply

Great article Rusty!!! I started my carpenter bee and mason bee nest building this last year and what a joy!!!

Rusty
Reply

So Bill, are you going to send us some photos of your native bee nests?

bob
Reply

Ok that explains it. I was wondering why bees are so interested in the silk plant I use to hide my satellite dish from the condo board! By accident I have made the perfect artificial honey bee nest. Now time to buy a big can of raid.

Heather
Reply

My family just bought a farm. In one of the barns (where the horses will be) bumble bees have decided to make a hive in the wooden floor. We obviously can’t have them living there. Does anyone know how to naturally get rid of them (not kill them just get them to leave?). We have called a local beekeeper and they didn’t help much. I also read somewhere that sprinkling garlic power would drive them away (Does anyone know if this is true?). Like I said we DO NOT want to kill them, just want them to move elsewhere (If getting a bumble bee box would work that would be fine). Hopefully someone can help! Thanks!!

Nick
Reply

Evening Rusty,
I was trying to find a place in the ‘Bumble bee Section’ to put these article links and a question relayed to me. So, the links first.

Two articles, the first link on Bumbler behaviors such as range or as the article is titled, “The use of landscape” …
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130822090035.htm
This second link on some study of Bumblers taking over bird nests…
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130528092122.htm

The question is “How to discourage bumble bees from taking over a bird nest?”. This comes secondhand, but the story is about what you might think. Birdhouses being overrun by bumble bees.

The best thought I’ve had so far was to look at what bumble bees LIKE, as you list out above, and try to put the birdhouses where the birds can use them that are as opposite to what the bees want as is possible.
That’s all I got.
You have any ideas?? :)

Nick
Kent WA

Rusty
Reply

Nick,

For years I have been trying to get bumble bees to move into my birdhouses. I have never succeeded. So tell your friend to start hopin’ and wishin’ for bees in the birdhouse; that should do it.

Seriously, though, if they are cleaned up every fall, the bees don’t like them as well. They want the nest preformed.

eagl
Reply

Bumblebees have the ability to Buzz Pollinate. This is needed for 8% of the worlds plants. Check it out at http://www.anneleonard.com/buzz-pollination. We must remember that bumblebees have survived this long because they are needed.

Rusty
Reply

“We must remember that bumblebees have survived this long because they are needed.”

That statement makes no sense. If bumble bees survive because they are needed, why should we worry about protecting them?

Jen
Reply

Bumble bees are important sonic pollinators. Things like tomatoes need bumble bees. Therefore, I want them in my garden. I LOVE tomatoes. I just collected a bumble bee nest from a neighbor. We’ll see how the tomatoes do this year as compared to last year. Here’s a great article to consider…

http://www.pollinator.com/tomato.htm

Werner Salazar
Reply

Hi!

Do you rear the bumble bees?

Can you sell queens?

Rusty
Reply

Werner,

I do not rear or sell bumble bees. There are companies that do . . . search the web. Check greenhouse suppliers, that’s where they are used most often.

Werner
Reply

Yes, I know. Problem is that in Costa Rica the price for that is really high and the hive don’t have a queen.

So I’m looking to rear them by myself to pollinate my greenhouses.

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