Who says bees don’t like castles and cabins, chalets and caves, or even cabanas and condominiums? As the saying goes, “Build them and they will come.” And they do.
Pat Barberi of Barre, Vermont has made of hobby of creating unique but functional solitary bee houses from miscellaneous vessels she finds at the secondhand shop. Pat explains:
“Here in Vermont we have three major recycling stores, Goodwill, ReStore, and ReSource. The latter two do a fantastic job of taking in, storing, and selling all kinds of building materials, old barn board, studding, plywood, tools, hardware, you name it, as well as regular items such as dishes, collectibles, office equipment, etc.
I found brand new double-paned windows for $2 each to replace broken windows on my barn. I find all kinds of cool vases, beer steins, and porcelain water bottles to make into mason bee houses.”
Solitary bee houses for sale
In addition to using “found” containers, Pat builds some from scratch, too. Then she fills them with purchased cardboard nesting tubes, bark, and pine cones and sells them at craft shows and fairs.
The demand for small solitary bee units is good, and Pat has no trouble selling her creations. She notes, however, that purchased nesting tubes are expensive. If too many tubes are used in one container, it can drive the cost above what most bee novices are willing to pay.
To my way of thinking, a small number of tubes is better for the bees because it keeps large aggregations of a single species from attracting parasites and predators. And as Pat points out, if the customer is lucky enough to fill the tubes, they can always buy more or make their own bee house.
Alternatively, one can use heavy paper straws, which are much more economical or, better yet, use naturally hollow stems. Suggestions from my readers include phragmites, joe-pye weed, liatris, teasel, Japanese knotweed, dahlia, raspberry and blackberry canes, and my all-time favorite, lovage.
Pat devises a way to hang each tiny house and paints the ends of the tubes different colors to help the bees identify their own front door. The colors give the tubes an attractive “finished” look, even if the bees don’t care all that much.
I love the idea of small houses for cavity-nesting bees because it introduces people to some of the wildlife that lives in their own backyards. For many, a small bee hut is their very first introduction to solitary bees, and it can help dispel the fear of bees that so many people have.
The latest addition to Pat’s product line is an emergence box. Cavity-nesting bees are prone to nest in the same place—or very close to the same place—where they emerged. This is okay for a year or two, but over the long run, these tubes can become infested with parasites that can harm the bees. However, since bees like their nests to face the sun, so you can prevent re-use of old tubes by putting them in a dark place to hatch.
An emergence box is a closed container where you can place bee cocoons or even full tubes of cocoons. The box has a small hole or slit where light can come in and the emerging bees can get out. If you place the box near new nesting tubes, most of the bees will opt for the tubes in the sun rather than search within the darkened box. (I say “most” because every year I see a few stubborn ones returning to the box.)
A fall project for spring bees
People often unload their homes of unwanted odds and ends right before Christmas as they get ready for year-end guests. Now is the perfect time to check out your local second-hand shop—or even your own garage—for the perfect solitary bee house. And before you go, check out Pat’s creations below.
Pat promises more photos in the future, so be sure to check back.
Honey Bee Suite