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
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
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
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!
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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