Saturday, March 26, 2016

Release the Bees! -or- How to Build a Bee House (in less than 3 hours)

Last year our apple and pear harvest was ridiculously small;
the year before we made a huge batch of cider (hard and soft ;) , apple and pear pies for everyone, apple butter, preserved pears, and apple mint jelly... so, we really missed all of that with our small harvest! We also noticed very few bees last spring. We garden organically, and we aren't sure of the cause, but we're not taking unnecessary chances with our harvest so we've bought some mason bees to boost our crops!

(follow this link to a post about the wonderful mason bee!)

We're also setting up different types of housing for the bees, so the females can pick and choose where they want to lay their eggs (every mason bee female is a *queen*, lays eggs). This post covers how to build a bee house that is easy to clean (a clean house helps keep the bees healthy!) and reuse from year to year. The instructions include videos and photos.

Materials (for exact house), metric sizes given are close approximates:
  • 1"x6" x ~ 8' (closest metric standard to ~2.54cm x 15.24cm x 2.44m) for cell trays, house sides and house bottom (do NOT use cedar or treated wood for the wooden trays/cells); cut to
    • (10) cell trays- 1"x6" (closest metric standard to ~2.54cm x 15.24cm) each at 5 1/2" (13.9cm) long (fir, pine, hemlock, etc)
    • (2) side pieces- 1"x6" (closest metric standard to ~2.54cm x 15.24cm) each at 8 3/4" (22.26cm) long (adjust length if needed, but the pieces should equal the height of your stacked cell trays and the spacer pieces)
    • (1) bottom piece- 1"x6" (closest metric standard to ~2.54cm x 15.24cm) at 6" (15.24cm) long
  • 1"x8" x ~18" (closest metric standard to ~2.54cm x 20.32cm x 45.72cm) for roof (cedar may be used, but do NOT use treated wood); cut the (2) roof pieces by cutting board exactly in half with a 45 degree angle (which creates the roof peak joint)
  • (2) ~ 1/2"x3"x 5 1/2" (1.2cm x 7.62 x 13.97cm) spacer pieces (clean scrap wood)
  • 1/8" or narrower (.32 cm) x ~2' (60.96cm) long  metal rod (non-corrosive e.g. stainless steel) for stabilizing rod; cut in half or cut in place to correct length 
  • screws
    • (8) #8 1 1/4" deck screws (or similar)
    • (5) #6 x 1 5/8" trim screws (or similar)
  • picture hanging wire and (2) screws
  • wall hook
  • silicone caulk 
  • glue (non-toxic) or small nails/brads/screws ~3/4" (used to attach 2 spacer pieces)
  • optional:
    • roofing metal/adornments ;) - copper, plexi, etc.
    • stain/ sealant/ permanent marker
    • wood and/or wire trim
  • clamps (can use elastic/ bungee cords or ...)
  • saw
  • drill 
    • 5/16" to 3/8" drill bit (~8.5mm to 9.5mm)
    • 1/8" drill bit (size slightly larger than stabilizing rod) (3.17)
    • driver bits or screw drivers (to fit screw heads) 
  • clamps 8"/ bungees (2) that will hold the blocks tight while you work with them

Finally! Here we are, finally getting to the "how to"! No worries, this is pretty easy... and if you have any questions post them to me and I'll help you sort it out :) . If you aren't used to woodworking these directions will walk you through making the bee house pictured above (and then add your own unique detail touches if you want); if you have some experience with woodworking you can just riff off of the techniques used here to create your own unique style of bee house!
  • Assemble all of the materials and equipment
  • Measure and mark 1"x6" board at 5 1/2" length each for 10 cell tray pieces
  • Cut 10 cell trays
  • Stack the 10 cut cell trays together, cut side down, and prepare to clamp them together
  • Clamp together and prepare cell trays for drilling and then number the boards on the side, in order, 1-10 (this will be important later)
  • Set up to drill holes in to the cell tray boards. You want the cell holes to each end up 5 to 5 1/2" (~14cm) deep, this may take a couple steps to achieve. First I drilled the holes using a drill press to about 4 inches deep (I was in a hurry to do this and didn't want to wait to buy a longer drill bit ;) , which created a very straight start, then followed that up with a regular drill to get the depth to 5" to 5 1/2".
  • I spaced the holes about an inch apart. You can mark them if that helps you keep track.
  • Drill the holes! Drill holes directly into the joints between the boards. You are creating the bee cells where the boards join so you can easily take the cells apart to clean and care for your bees and bee house.
  • Drill the holes between 5" and 5 1/2" deep (note the numbered boards ;) . I followed up the drill press, which gave me a nice straight 4" deep cell hole to start, with a handheld drill to drill the holes to 5 1/2"
  • Note the numbers (1-10) on the side of the cell trays
  • Drill a hole (using a bit slightly larger than your stabilizing rod) through all of the cell trays in each of the rear corners, for 2 stabilizing rods that will keep the cell trays from slipping. My drill bit was NOT long enough to drill through all of the cell trays at once so I drilled through four at a time and kept removing the top two cell tray boards to drill down through two more cell tray levels until I went through all of the cell tray boards in the stack
  • Build the house walls for the cell trays by pre-drilling the holes, then using the deck screws to attach the the side walls to the bottom of the house, making the internal width of the house the same as the width of the cell trays. Make sure to line up the back edges of all pieces evenly so the extra lip of the bottom piece sticks out the front of the house. Silicone the joining edges of the wall and bottom on the inside

  • Drill stabilizing rod holes in to house bottom/base, use bottom 2 cell trays as a drilling template to line up the holes for the bottom insert. Do NOT drill all the way through the bottom/base! You want the bottom to hold the rod in place.
  • Temper the insides of each cell with a propane torch. This will help clean up any bits and darken the inside of the cell
  • Affix the 2 spacer pieces, one to the center of the bottom of the bottom cell tray and one to the center of the top of the top cell tray. Set the stack of cell trays in the housing... it should be a snug fit. 
  • Put the stabilizing rods through the cell trays and push firmly in to the bottom/base piece. 
  • Use 2 deck screws (pre-drill!) to attach the top edge of the house walls to the top spacer Be careful not to over-tighten as you will seasonally remove these screws, and these screws are just there to give extra (probably unneeded) stability

  • The back of the bee house, with picture hanging wire. Roof is only set in place at this point to make sure the stabilizing rods are cut to the right length. Cut the stabilizing rods!!! Put silicone between the 45 angle of the roof and join the 2 pieces. If needed, use a box to square up the roof corner, pre-drill, and use three trim screws to screw the two halves of the roof together. Silicone the roof joint. I also sealed the top and sides of the roof, because I wanted to keep the color of the roof light and watertight. Line up the roof so about 1/4" of the roof overlaps to the back of the house, which gives the front a large overlap. Center, pre-drill, and attach the roof to the sides of the bee house using the 2 remaining trim screws, silicone over screw heads.
and from the front......
  • Location! location! location!  The bee house should be mounted in a sunny south-facing area where it also gets early sun, preferably on a wall or solid fence of some sort. We mounted ours on the wall next to our garden area. We pre-drilled the hole since the wall is cement board. Make sure to mount it sturdily.
  • The bee house ready for the bees!
  • The bees in the house. The top spacer piece is a perfect place to set out the bees as they are getting ready to come out of their cocoons.

Coming Soon!
  • More about mason bees (link)
  • More about North American native bees (link)
  • More about honey bees (link)

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