Home-made Insect Hotel from repurposed materials. Bee Cosy Bug House for happy Mason bees

Green gifts home-made

Give the bees a gift - 'B is for Bee Cosy'

An insect hotel makes a great project and a gift you can be proud of. The following film shows you a detailed 'how-to' but if you need any more help. please get in touch. 

The Bee Cosy for cosy bees is an elegant green gift for you to make using 99% recuperated materials. This time the design uses more wood recycled from a fruit crate and in addition dried plant stems and thin branches from the garden. The Bee Cosy is a little more difficult than the Apple House bird feeder in the previous blog post: http://thegreenlever.blogspot.fr/2011/11/is-for-apple-house-diy-green-gifts.html

Insect house for mason bees

I know from experience this present is well received by friends, family and the bees and lacewings, its future tenants! The house will provide not only a Winter shelter for many small creatures including some 200 varieties of solitary bees but year round living accommodation too. These superb insects are an essential part of any garden, they pollinate and in the case of the lacewings consume vast quantities of garden pests such as aphids. Overwintering insects in an hotel encourages them to stay on and multiply in the Spring.


It's been a fantastic year in the garden, we've just gathered the third crop of figs and the greenhouses are still providing nasturtiums, tomatoes, lettuce, rocket, basil and lemon balm for Autumn salads. 

Planning Accommodation for Solitary Bees

For the interior section of the Bee Cosy I looked at various sites on the web, which had information on insect hibernation. Because the solitary bees are so diverse, they can easily be put off using a Bee Cosy if the accommodation is not to their liking. To make your Insect Hotel as attractive as possible you need a selection of hollow stems but the cube block from a pallet also makes an ideal nest box. You will need to drill the holes to the recommended diameter and depth for bees, although making some larger or smaller will also attract ladybirds, earwigs and the giant but friendly, European Black Bees. The rule I followed for the pallet block was a maximum diameter of 10 mm, I used a 8 mm drill.

Insect house repurposing pallet wood blocks

 These holes are drilled right through the standard pallet cube/block

Some of the solitary bees are really tiny, the beautifully named, Harebell bee often reuses a vacated woodworm hole, so will need a nest no bigger than 2mm in diameter! You can therefore,  drill your block will several sizes of drill between 2-10 mm or make a separate house to attract a specific bee. You will also notice as you look through some of the sites that they recommend lining the holes with parchment paper, I believe this is because bees can get put off by sawdust or splinters but I just made sure I'd  tidied up the block. When the bees find the accommodation to their liking they will stay throughout the year, using the hole as a nursery, so your Bee Cosy could become the base of an expanding colony for the garden.

Loss of Habitats. Wither the Lacewing?

The stemmed section of the Bee Cosy is for all insects but also hopefully to accommodate lacewings. Why lacewings? Well this hugely beneficial insect is in decline because it no longer has the habitats in which to survive the Winter. The Lacewing has unfortunately fallen prey to the mania for tidy gardens and in particular to the whole army of people brandishing  snippers and secateurs, who issue forth in the Autumn to attack herbaceous borders and cart garden debris off to the local tip. Giving someone an insect house means they can still cut off the flower, herb and vegetable stems but these are then just relocated to a handy 'hotel'. 

Swallowtail caterpillar
Slightly angry Swallowtail caterpillar amongst the fennel stems.

Gardening for insects means leaving as many habitats as possible available for Winter use. The making of the Bee Cosy is in fact the only time we ever raid the borders to obtain these stems, which will provide a plethora of winter holiday homes for a whole myriad of insects.

When choosing stems and branches to use for nesting tubes, remember to think about toxicity, for example I used elderberry branches as recommended on various sites, although they are slightly toxic. All plants are not toxic to all species. 

Finishing off and siting your insect house

Using natural pigments on an insect hotel
Ready for a wrap

The final Bee Cosy was decorated with a wash of acrylic water-based varnish, which had been tinted with natural mineral-based pigments. We have already used these on the Apple House and will be using them and other ecological finishes in the upcoming 'pallet presents', we therefore decided to devote the next blog to their use.

Insect house and pallet wood hen houseIn order to help with positioning the Bee Cosy, I include a nail with the finished gift and a simple instruction on the best place to locate it. Solitary bees being cold-blooded need the warmth of the sun, so the Cosy should face south east or south. They tend also to like an uninterrupted flight path when nearing their home but need shelter form prevailing winds. Placing it amongst or near flowers is also a good idea.

Peace over the Hen House and the Bee Cosy!

Fantail dove and pallet wood hen house

How long will it take to make one of these? Around about four hours, including cutting the stems, perhaps a more satisfying experience that wandering around the shops or surfing the net trying to find an original gift!

Update: Last year in this very insect hotel above, a wren decided it was the ideal spot for a nest and removed all the hollow stems and filled the Bee Cosy with a beautiful moss and feather nest, which unfortunately was blow away in the wind before completed. We have since replaced this with one of our open-fronted nest boxes (the design is on this blog see 'Browse by Project' bottom right of this page). However, we did make our other stand-alone and wall-mounted designs with a layer of wire netting to stop this happening, as it was also frustrating for the poor wren! This has not been a problem with our tree-hanging designs, so it might also depend on positioning, as well as how many wild birds you have nesting in your area - we have a forest garden.

More designs on this blog

A step-by-step tutorial for our Luxury Insect Hotel for discerning arthropods (shown left) and two simpler but effective designs for Mason bees and lacewings, follow this link for The Gîte & the Chalet (Chalet pictured right).

If you enjoyed this article, then please feel free to share it, comment and/or ask questions.

Cheers, Andy

Some useful sites:

© Andy Colley 2014

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