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Bee-come a bee hero and create crucial habitat for your local native bees. Your garden will be all abuzz!

A metal can filled with bamboo stakes hangs from a tree in a leafy area.

You will need

  • Metal can with a pop lid, like a Milo or instant milk can (don’t use soup cans will pull lids because they have sharp edges)
  • Ruler
  • Permanent marker
  • Bamboo stakes with holes 4-9 mm across
  • Brown string or jute twine
  • Scissors
  • Hand saw
  • An adult to do the sawing

Safety

This activity uses a saw – get an adult to do the sawing.

When outside, be sun-safe and let an adult know where you are.

Don’t touch insects and other creepy-crawlies!

outdoor hazard icon

What to do

  1. When you’re getting your bamboo stakes, make sure they haven’t been treated or fumigated. You don’t want bee-killing chemicals in your bee hotel!

  2. Empty your metal can, saving the food in a clean container. Remove the label and wash the can with soapy water to get rid of the sticky residue the label leaves behind.

  3. Use a ruler to measure the height of the can. Write the height down – you’ll need it later.

    Measuring the height of a can using a ruler.
  4. Pick up a bamboo stake and find one of the lumpy knuckle-like ‘nodes’.

    Measuring a bamboo stick with a ruler.
  5. Using a permanent marker, mark a location a few millimetres below the node. Then use a ruler to measure from this mark. If your can is taller than 15 centimetres, measure the height of the can along the bamboo and make a second mark. If your can is shorter than 15 centimetres, measure 15 centimetres away from your mark.

    Measuring between the pen marks on a a bamboo stick, using a ruler.
  6. Ask an adult to saw the bamboo stake at the 2 marks. You’ll end up with a piece of bamboo 15 centimetres long or as long as your can, with a node at one end.

    Cutting a bamboo stick on the pen mark using a pruning saw.
  7. Put the cut bamboo length into the metal can, node side down.

  8. Repeat steps 3-7 until you can’t fit any more cut bamboo lengths in the can. Try to pack it tightly enough so that the bamboo stays put even when you flip the can upside down. You can poke smaller twigs of bamboo into the spaces in between your existing bamboo lengths.

    Above shot of metal can filled with bamboo stakes.
  9. Cut a one-metre piece of brown string. Tie a slip knot in each end. You can ask an adult if this is hard.

  10. Put one slipknot around the opening of the can and the other around the base of the can, and then tighten them both.

    Metal can lying on its side, full of bamboo stakes. Twine is tied around the opening and base of the can.
  11. Find an outdoor location for your new bee hotel! Here are some factors to consider:

    Metal can hanging sideways, full of bamboo sticks. It is hanging from a tree in a leafy backyard.
  12. It should be sunny or semi-shaded with some shelter from rain and wind (like under the eaves of your roof or a window).

  13. It should be placed at least a metre above the ground but no higher than 2 metres.

  14. It should be placed near a garden where the bees can get food.

  15. Consider leaving water for your bees in shallow dishes.

  16. After a few weeks, you can check whether anyone has moved into your hotel. Look, but don’t touch! You don’t know who’s home!

What’s happening

Australia is home to over 1,700 species of native bees, and they live almost everywhere. Most native bees lay their eggs in tiny, narrow burrows in trees, on the ground or in dead sticks. But our gardens might not have enough bee-friendly hollows. By making a bee hotel, you are providing some much-needed habitat for your local native bees.

Hollow bamboo stakes make ideal nests for resin or leafcutter bees (genus Megachile). These bees are found throughout Australia, and they get their common names from the building materials they use to make their nests. These bees don’t like being in groups, so it is more than okay for your bee hotel to be small. In fact, small hotels are less likely to have pest and parasite problems.

Your bamboo stakes needed to be at least 15 centimetres long because Megachile bees build walls between each of their eggs – kind of like making lots of bunk beds. Before she walls off each egg, the female bee leaves some pollen and nectar as food. This gives the bee larva enough energy to grow safely inside the nest before emerging as an adult. You will know if a bee has built a nest when one of your bamboo stakes has a dot of mud covering the opening.

If you want to attract more bees to your hotel, consider planting plants that will provide lots of nectar and pollen year-round. Good plants include daisies, lavenders, grevilleas, and salvias. Leafcutter bees make their nests with little pieces of leaves, so they enjoy plants with soft leaves like roses, buddleja, bauhinia, and wisteria. Scientists think these leaf cuttings keep the bee larvae’s food supply from drying out.

Thank you for caring for Australia’s native bees!

Note: an earlier version of this activity featured a glass jar, which we discontinued due to the very small chance of the jar focusing sunlight to start a fire. We decided to update the activity to use a metal can, which will not have this risk.

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