A New Bee House

Maybe it’s the time of year, but last week I started thinking “I need a new project.”  Not a science project – I’ve got a ton of those already.  No, this needed to be a personal project, preferably something that involved creating with my hands.  I quickly developed a pattern for a little elephant plush and made a few of them, but it wasn’t enough.  I needed something bigger, something that involved a bit more heavy construction.  It hit me when I noticed a fallen tree branch in my yard as I was cleaning up after my dogs (a great time to think by the way!): I needed a new bee house!  A fancy bee house!  It was too late for a trip to the hardware store at that point, so I drew up my plans and headed out early Saturday morning to get the supplies I needed.  I am seriously the worst woodworker on the planet, so this project could have ended in disaster, but I’m rather pleased with the results.  Thus, I’m going to share the plans with you all today!

Bee House No. 2

Materials

— Three pieces of equal sized lumber.  I bought a 2″ x 10″ x 10′ board and had the hardware store cut it into nine 11-inch long pieces (enough for three houses) plus one smaller reject piece.  (I have a good saw, but honestly I didn’t want to bother.)  The piece of wood you choose can really be anything that’s more than 6 inches deep, so go with what feels right!  My boards ended up being wider than they needed to be, so I would get something a little less wide next time, something in the 8 inch depth most likely.
— Drill
— Long drill bits in assorted sizes.  I used 1/4 inch and 21/64 inch, but anything between 1/4 and 3/8 inch or so works.  The more different sized holes you provide, the more species of bees you might attract!
— Sandpaper (and a sander if you have one, but you can just rub the wood with the sandpaper by hand if you don’t).  I used 120 grit paper, but considering it’s going to be sitting outside I didn’t bother with getting it perfectly smooth, just enough to get rid of rough edges.
— Wood stain (optional).  I like the stains that stain and seal in one.  This gives the wood a nice finish, but also protects the wood from the elements to some extent.  I went with the walnut stain.  For a more rustic look, you can leave the wood unfinished.
— Foam brush or other paint brush.
— Newspaper or masking paper
— Paper towels
— Carpenter’s glue

— Copper hanger strap (in the plumbing department)
— Ruler
— 24- 1/2 inch #8 wood screws – or more if you choose not to use the…
— Thumbtacks or upholstery tacks (optional)
— Screwdriver
— Hammer 

Instructions

Step 1.  Cut

If you don’t have them cut at the store, cut your board into three equally sized pieces.

Step 2.  Drill

 Drill the different sizes of holes in whatever pattern you find appealing along the narrowest edge of the board.  Drill as deep as you can, avoiding the edges.  If you’re a perfectionist and abysmal woodworker like me, trust me: random hole placement is the way to go.  You’re never going to get the holes lined up as nicely as you’d like without a drill press and a good workbench and it will just frustrate you if you try!

Step 3.  Sand

Sand every side of the boards, making sure the edges and the drilled holes are free of any sharp pieces that could result in splinters.  I used an orbital sander and it made quick work of this step.  Look over your boards and choose the two pieces that have the most pleasing appearance to be your top and bottom boards, then sand those especially carefully so that they’re quite smooth.

Step 4.  Stain

This step is optional, but I wanted to protect the wood and make it darker.  If using, place the boards on newspaper or masking paper, then apply the stain in a thin, even layer.  You really don’t need to stain the parts of the board that will be hidden inside the bee nest, so I only stained around all the edges and what were going to be the top and bottom edges.  Wait 5-15 minutes and then gently and evenly wipe any remaining stain from the boards.  Let them dry for at least a few hours, or even overnight.  If you want to make the nest extra weather resistant, you could seal the wood with polyurethane or some other sealant at this point, but I wanted my wood to look a little rustic and left it with just stain.

Step 5. Glue

Apply a thin layer of glue to the bottom of the top board and fix it to the middle board.  Do the same with the bottom board on the other side.  Make sure all the holes are facing the same way!  This will make the next step a lot easier.  Pile a few books on top and leave to dry overnight.  You could even stop here if you want to keep things simple.

Step 6.  Strap

I love the look of the welded metal frames of some bee houses I’ve seen around town, so I wanted to easily duplicate the sort of metal on wood look without buying welding equipment or burning my house down.  To do so, I used copper hanger strap.  Measure around the house and cut two pieces of hanger strap the measured length plus 1/2 inch.  Choose which part of the house will be the bottom.  On the chosen bottom, measure in 2 inches from one edge and place one end of the hanger strap there.  Drill a screw into the wood through the first hole to fix the hanger strap in place.  Then wrap the hanger strap around the house, always keeping it 2 inches from the edge.  Use the hammer to bend the strap around the edges tightly.  Fix the strap in place every 3 inches or so along the long edge by adding a screw.  Use one screw in each board on the narrow sides.  Repeat this step on the other side of the bee house  so that there are 2 bands of hanger strap around it.

Step 7.  Decorate

I decided to jazz up my bee house a bit more by pressing gold thumbtacks into the hanger strap at regular intervals.  Simply press them into the gaps in the hanger strap, then tap them gently with a hammer to seat them well.

Step 8.  Display

Once complete, the bee house should be placed somewhere it will get shade during the day so it won’t get too hot for the bees.  I’m going to thread some wire under the hanger strap and hang mine from the tree my other bee house is in, but you could simply set it along a fence, retaining wall, or raised garden bed too.  It could lay flat or stand vertically – your choice!

Step 9.  Enjoy!

Enjoy watching the bees build their nests in their new bee box!

I bought enough supplies for 3 bee houses and they ended up costing $12.74 a piece to build.  Not a bad deal for several years worth of bee observing happiness!  My new nest looks just how I wanted it to, was easy to build (seriously, if I can do this anyone can!), and will provide extra cavities for my yard bees to build nests in.  And, I don’t need three nests, so I’m giving two away as gifts.  What can be better than the gift of native bees?

Now I’m itching to come up with some new designs…  I’ll post them here when I do!

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Want a printable copy of this tutorial?  You can find it here!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © C. L. Goforth
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Friday 5: Leafcutter Bee Nest Caps

The bee house I put up in my yard in mid-April has been a complete success!  Nearly every cavity has been filled with nesting materials and eggs and now I’m waiting for the new bees to emerge.  I’ve watched them obsessively and am keeping hard-core notes about the whole process, so I am totally in love with my bees!  One thing that has fascinated me is the variety in the capping stuctures and materials used among cavities.  To the best of my knowledge, all of my bees are these:

bee

A leafcutter bee (Megachile) bee making a nest

They’re a species of leafcutter bee in the genus Megachile.  Even though they’re apparently all the same species, they’re still building their nests according to… something!  Maybe it’s individual preferences or access to the building materials that controls it, but three different caps might be built by three different bees on the same day.  Fascinating!  My bees have been spending 2-3 days busily building their nests and laying eggs and then spend part of a day building a cap to seal everything safely inside.  They’ve made 5 different types of caps so far, perfect for Friday 5!

Resin Caps

resin cap

Resin caps

The first several bees made these caps.  Then they stopped making them.  Most recently, bees have been STEALING the resin from the completed resin caps, cutting pieces away from the caps and hauling them off, and then recapping the nests with mud.  Odd!  I assume there’s a resin shortage now and they’re scrambling to find it wherever they can.  When the bees build this kind of cap, they bring big globs of it from somewhere on the other side of my house, then stretch it across the opening.  (The bee in the photo at the top has a big glob of it in her jaws, ready to stick it onto the cap.)  Then they pile a bunch more on the front, making a thick, flexible cap.  They smell awesome too!  You can smell the resin from several feet away.  Reminds me of vacations in the pine topped mountains in Colorado…

Leaf Caps

Chewed leaf cap

Leaf cap, in progress. (This one is still green, even though it's now dry.)

Some of the caps, though not many, are made of chewed leaf bits.  The bees bring in large pieces of leaves or flower petals or other plant materials, then chew them up and stick them onto the nest.  Presumably they are sticking the leaf fragments together with saliva.  The best thing about the leaf caps is the variation in color!  Most of them are green like this one, but I have one yellow, one purple, and one vivid red one too.  Awesome!

Rock Caps

Rock cap

Rock cap

These seem to be the least popular choice, but there are a few.  The bees use resin to attach little pebbles (which they collect from the corner of my yard) onto the front of their nests.  After they build up a few layers of rocks, they call it good and either start a new nest in another hole or fly away.  I love watching the bees make these caps!  There’s something about a bee flying around with a rock nearly the size of her head clamped in her mouth that is both inspiring and terribly entertaining.

Flat Mud Caps

Flat mud cap

Flat mud cap

The mud caps are very popular with the bees in my bee house and they take one of two forms.  The flat mud caps are built so that the outer edge is flush with the face of the log in which the cavity is located.  After they dry a bit, they tend to sink inward in the middle a little, giving them a gentle concave look.  To the best of my knowledge, the bees are making the mud themselves by carrying little piles of dirt from another part of my yard, mixing it with saliva and chewed leaf bits, and then spreading the whole mess across the nest entrances.

Round Mud Caps

Round mud cap

Round mud cap

This was the last style of cap to appear in my bee house, but they look really fabulous!  The round mud caps are a sort of mixture of the flat mud cap and the rocks cap.  The bees stick a bunch of little rocks onto the front of the nest, building out past the edge of the log.  Then they plaster over the whole thing with mud as in the flat mud cap.  The result is a cap that extends well beyond the nest entrance, almost like the little developing bees inside are blowing bubbles in the mud!

Watching my bees has been great and I’m very pleased my bee house has worked as well as it has.  And just look at all the individual choices being made by the bees!  Fabulous.  I’m definitely going to make myself some new bee houses (even bought a new power tool – my first circular saw – to do it!) because it’s been great fun watching them build their nests.  I highly recommend the experience!

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I am going to do my best to get a blog post up on Monday, but there’s a good chance it won’t happen.  I am leaving town for a family emergency today and that is a lot more important than getting a blog post out on time.  I will be back, and as soon as I can, but if you don’t hear from me for a while that’s why.

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com

Friday 5: Making a Bee House from Recycled Wood

bee

A native bee I came across recently.

I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for bees, especially native (i.e. non-honey bee) bees.  I like them so much, in fact, that I considered studying bees in grad school when I first started.  Luckily, I have a friend who is a native bee expert.  One of the many things I’ve learned from her is how many cavity nesting bees there are in the world, bees that don’t build their own nests.  Instead, they fly around looking for suitable pre-existing cavities, holes made by other creatures.  They lay their eggs in these cavities and provision the nests with food before sealing them up.  The larvae/pupae develop inside and then chew their way out of the nest when they become adults before flying off and starting the whole process over again.

One great way to attract native cavity nesting bees to an area is to give them a lot of cavities that they can use for nests.  You can do this by making a bee house!  My friend has made tons of bee houses and writes about to make them on her blog, and I decided I finally wanted to make one this year.  However, I didn’t have a piece of wood that was deep enough to make the right sort of cavities.  I also didn’t want to buy a whole new board because my yard is small and I don’t really need more than one bee house.  Then I remembered the big pile of cut tree branches in my back yard.  Last summer, a HUGE branch from my eucalyptus tree fell during a storm and I cut it up and piled the pieces in the yard.  They were still there, and I thought that if I clumped a bunch of them together, they just might work!

For this week’s Friday 5, I present you with 5 steps I took to make a bee house from recycled tree branches.  This was a very easy project and took less than an hour altogether.  Here we go:

Step 1.  Gather supplies and equipment

equipment

Supplies and equipment

You can use hand tools to make a bee house like mine, but it’s going to take forever.  I used a power saw (just a little jigsaw – a table saw or circular saw will work well too!) and a power drill (or a drill press – oh, how I would love a drill press!) to speed things up.   You’ll need drill bits (I used 1/4 and 7/32 inch bits), a sanding block or power sander with medium grit sandpaper, and some jute twine.  You of course also need some dry tree branches.  Some of my branches were about 3 inches in diameter and others were less than 1 inch.  Use several different sizes if you have them!

(If you’re going to make one of these bee houses, it’s a good idea to pull out some safety equipment too, at least a dust mask and safety glasses.  If you have a workbench, use it to clamp your pieces down while you cut and drill to keep your hands well out of the way of your power tools.  As with any project involving power tools, please be very careful that you don’t accidentally remove a finger as you remove parts of the branches with your saw.  It’s probably going to hurt a lot if you do.  Your fingers also work just fine without perforations, so keep your drill far from them.)

Step 2: Cut the branches into equal length pieces

Cut your branches into pieces.  You want to have several nearly cylindrical pieces, so cut off any smaller branches coming off the main stem.  I cut 7 inch long pieces using my jigsaw.  It’s okay if they’re not perfectly even or exactly the same length.  Sand any sharp pieces down so the edges are smooth.

Step 3: Drill holes

drilled

Drilled branches

I made two different sized holes (different sizes will attract different bees!) in my tree branches.  I made my holes about 5 inches long, which is a little short for some bees, but I didn’t want to buy special long drill bits just to make my bee house.  6 inch holes are better for some bees, so if you have the long drill bits, now’s a good time to use them!  I left some space between the holes in the larger branches and only drilled one hole in the smaller branches.

Step 4: Wrap and tie branches together

wrapping

Wrapped branches.

Lay a long piece of jute twine on the ground and start stacking your drilled branches on top of them, centering the pieces over the twine.  Make sure all the holes face the same direction!  Tightly wrap the twine around the whole bunch of branches 7 or 8 times and tie off with a secure knot.  You don’t want any loose pieces sliding around, so wrap the twine around the smaller branches as you’re stacking if you think they’ll come loose.  My branches are in a roughly rectangular layout, but you could make a circle or another shape easily too.

Step 5: Hang your new bee house!

completed bee house

Completed bee house.

After I wrapped the bundle of branches together, I cut a long piece of jute twine, folded it in half, and tied it to the twine on either side of the bee house.  This left a long loop I could use to hang my bee house.  I hung my house from a hook I embedded in my tree a while back.  I hung mine in the shade because I worry about my bees steaming to death inside the branches in the sun, but it may be better to hang the house in the sun in cooler climates.

That’s it!  Very easy to make.  I don’t know whether my design will work or not, but I’m hopeful I’ll have some bees checking in soon.  If my bee house is a success, I’ll write another post highlighting some of my visitors this summer!

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Unless otherwise stated, all text, images, and video are copyright © 2011 DragonflyWoman.wordpress.com