Our workshop on 27th February was definitely not just like any other gardening workshop we’ve held before. As we were surprising a group member for their birthday, we had two absolutely delicious home-made cakes to indulge in. Eleri certainly pulled out all the stops with her Victoria Sponge and Pavlova. The workshop was about how we can make our garden wildlife friendly. One way to do this is to install bee hotels. Bee hotels are great for solidary bees of which there are just under 250 species in the UK. Now is the perfect time as bees start laying more eggs in Spring.
If you’ve missed the workshop, bee hotels are relatively easy to make and you certainly can replicate our work at home. All you’ll need is the following:
✔ Bamboo sticks
✔ A hacksaw to cut the bamboo. (Secateurs made the bamboo splinter.)
✔ Sand paper
1) Sticks need to be 20cm long as a minimum. (It doesn’t need to be exact. Cut the bamboo sticks after the 2nd node. They can be cut to different lengths as you see in the enclosed photo.)
2) Sand the openings of the bamboo sticks well so bees don’t damage their wings as they enter.
3) Make sure the bamboo is hollow; a skewer works well to open up the bamboo.
4) Place the bamboo sticks in a bundle of 15 or more, depending on how large you want to build the hotel.
5) You can put them into a cut-up water bottle or a tin can. We opted to just use string.
6) Loop string around the bundle and secure them tightly. If you want to hang the hotel from a tree, allow for plenty of string so you can also make a handle out of it. (Hotels can also be fixed against your garden fence.)
7) Place the bee hotel in full sun, if possible, ideally between 50cm to 3m off the ground.
8) Ideally the bee hotel should stay waterproof, therefore dip down the hotel slightly so rain water can run off. Place it slightly at an angle.
It's fascinating that inside the bamboo sticks, Mason bees build small chambers for their eggs. They line each chamber with wet clay and furnish it with pollen (as a provision for the larvae) before laying the eggs. Bees seal the space off with a plug of wet mud and repeat this process within the stick until they get to its opening. Female larvae at the back and males are laid at the front. Bees create empty chambers too which confuses predators such as wood peckers which then don’t bother to check the other chambers and move on to their next insect feast – how clever are our lovely bees! Other predators include wasps and cuckoo bees.
We also learned about the ensuring pollen is available for insects throughout the year. Willow and hazel provide early pollen for honey bees. Stinging nettles provide food for butterflies. Based on an RHS study, we can support honey bees by adding both native plants and South American plants in to our garden as they flower at different times which extends the pollen and nectar season for bees. For example, pineapple-scented sage 'Scarlet Pineapple' (Salvia elegans) blooms late in the season and where there are no frosts, plants may continue flowering until Spring.
The workshop inspired us to think of more ways of making our gardens wildlife friendly in simple cheap and effective ways. You can find out more about solitary bees at the bumblebee conservation trust https://www.bumblebeeconservation.org/redmasonbee/.