Some of you might think it’s crazy to start thinking about gardening when winter is just getting started, but the opposite couldn’t be more true! When the wind is howling and snow is piling up outside your window, is there any better way to lift your spirits than to think of the warmer weather that’s just a couple of months away, and the amazing garden you can cultivate once it returns? It’s at this time of year that seed catalogs start arriving, and although you can’t dive into the soil or start your seeds just yet (unless you’re in the southern hemisphere!), you can work on some fun DIY projects so they’ll be ready to go as soon as the snow melts.
Insect hotels are easy to make, can be assembled from all manner of found, recycled, or up-cycled materials, and can provide a cute little home for insect friends for many years to come. These hotels are vital for all manner of wee beasties to find shelter year-round, and are particularly important for winter. Some bee, wasp, ladybug, butterfly, and moth species hibernate over the winter, and safe little homes where they can stay warm and dry until springtime are very appreciated. Each of these species has a different type of home requirement, so depending on which bibites your recipient would like to attract and keep in the garden, you can decide which materials and compartments (apartments?) to create in this amazing bug condo.
What You’ll Need:
- A wooden box or open bird house that has an overhanging lip to keep rain/snow out.
- An assortment of twigs, wood chips, rolled up paper, leaves, or hollow reeds (bamboo works well), thin cardboard tubing, and (if desired), blocks of wood with holes drilled into them.
- Hot glue gun and glue sticks.
- Twine or wire to hang the finished hotel, or some type of post on which to elevate it.
How to Build It:
If you’re using rolled up leaves or bits of paper, it’s best to pre-roll them tightly and then set them aside for when you need them. The same goes for hollow reeds or bamboo: cut all the sections before you begin so you don’t have to stop and start up again a dozen times.
Choose a tube and glue it into place in the bottom left- or right-hand corner of your open box/bird house. This is basically the cornerstone for the rest of the tubes.
Holding the box at an angle, arrange the other tubes around the first one you glued in there, holding them in place as you work. If and when you feel it’s necessary, add a drop or two of hot glue to the bottom of a tube to secure it before settling it in, or between the tubes if you find that they’re not locking together tightly. The tubes should hold one another in place firmly, but shouldn’t be packed in so tightly that they crush one another or impede air circulation.
It’s good to have a variety of tube sizes available so you can use different thicknesses to fill large or small gaps as they’re created. Varying the sizes also helps different insect species find homes in among the niches.
You can create a sort of condo hotel by using a large wooden box and alternating the types of filler you have inside of it. If you create sections within the box that have wood bark, wood chips, rolled tubes/hollow reeds, drilled wooden blocks, bundles of sticks, and bunches of straw, you may find that a dozen different species find shelter in there.
When it comes to drilling “bee holes” in wood, take into consideration the fact that different bee species are drawn to different sizes of holes for shelter and egg-laying:
• For leafcutter bees, the drilled holes should be 1/4″ wide and 2 1/2 -4″ deep.
• For mason bees, drill holes that are 6″ deep, 5/16″ wide.
Try to space holes at least 3/4″ apart, and never drill entirely through the wooden blocks.
Keeping a bug hotel near your garden ensures that your herbs, veggies, and flowers will never be lacking in pollinators, and you’ll help to contribute to the health of your local ecosystem. Just remember to move slowly and non-threateningly if a group of bees happens to move in so you can avoid getting stung by wary inhabitants defending their new home.
All photos via Shutterstock