Bee Hotel Workshop
Scott MacIvor from GRIT Lab shared his extensive knowledge of pollinators in a workshop on how to build "bee hotels." Bees are essential pollinators of plants and crops including apples, plums, carrots, coffee, cotton. However, many bee species are currently in decline or endangered, largely because of loss of their feeding and nesting habitats. Building bee hotels is a great way to boost native bee populations, as well as providing an opportunity to study, observe, and collect them.
In a presentation prior to the hands-on portion of the workshop, MacIvor emphasized the diversity of types of bee species. There are over 300 species of bees in MacIvor's home base of Toronto. Although honeybees are often the first kind of bee that people think of, there are many different kinds of bees requiring different habitats to survive. There are five major families of bees that carry out pollination: Apidae (honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees), Andrenidae (solitary mining bees), Halictidae (sweat bees), Megachilidae (leafcutter and mason bees), and Colletidae (plasterer bees).
The hotels that participants built in the workshop will become homes to "solitary bees," which are non-aggressive bees that are their own queens and which do not live in hives, build honeycomb, swarm, or sting. They are also some of the only bees to mature prior to winter hibernation and emerge as adults in the spring.
Attendees brought a variety of types of containers, from wooden house shapes to coffee tins and jars, to use as exteriors for their bee hotels. The day before the workshop, reeds from the invasive Phragmites australis perennial grass were collected from Rhode Island wetlands. These reeds were brought into the workshop to be used as the interior "rooms" of each hotel.
Bees' needs are basic: the ability to forage to food, a nest, and nest materials. Some species make their nests in holes in the ground (in Toronto parks, tiny walls are now built around these important habitat sites when they are found) while others require logs or similar spaces. MacIvor explained the best practices for habitat construction and maintenance so that bees will actually use the hotels, rather than abandoning the hotels to spiders and other insects.
The length of the holes should be 15–18 cm, with a width of 2–10 mm. Reeds should be staggered in entryways so that each bee can recognize and find their own room (another way to encourage recognition and use is to paint patterns on the surface of the hotel). Plastic has been used before in experimental bee hotels, but doesn't allow for enough air to enter the hotels. Wood, cardboard, and reeds are the preferred materials. Hotels should be placed in the sun and face southeast, and there must be a roof or covering to protect from the rain. Hotel maintenance includes regularly checking for parasites and other invaders and removing them as needed.
The reeds in our workshop were cut at each natural node so that the back of each room is closed and the front of each room is open for bees to enter. This process was a messy and fun one, and the Nature Lab was in a collective frenzy of concentration and activity in order to construct these important sites for pollinators and put them up into the world to be used and observed.