The observation of native bees can become a lifelong pastime and pleasure. Most importantly, you and your children get outdoors to experience the amazing habitats that we share with pollinators, flowering plants and our food. To encourage native bees to live in your landscape they’ll need a nesting place. We have directions for three styles of bee boxes you can make to create a safe place where native bees, such as mason and leafcutter bees, can lay eggs and overwinter.
To make any of the bee houses you will need to use untreated wood. Untreated fence boards are a good choice for constructing bee houses. They’re inexpensive, hold up to the weather, and are available at most home improvement stores. It’s important to use untreated wood so that there’s no risk of exposing the bees to chemicals.
You will need the following tools to construct your bee house:
3/8-inch spade drill bit
1/16-inch twist drill bit
Tip: Predrill all screw holes to minimize wood splitting. Use the 1/16-inch drill bit.
Tip: Place native bee houses outside before blossoms open in the spring.
1. Open Bee House
This is the simplest house to make and will accommodate mason and leafcutter bees.
1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 48-inch untreated fence board
1 – 1/4-inch hardboard, approx. 5 ½ by 9 ¾-inches
Approximately 25 – 1 ¼-inch deck screws
20 – assorted cardboard tubes 8 mm for mason bees, 6 mm for leafcutter bees and reeds
Sides: 2 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 9-inch fence board
Bottom: 1 – 5/8 x 4 x 9-inch fence board
Top: 1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 9-inch fence board
Back Cover: 1 – 1/4 x 5 ½ x 9 ¾-inch hardboard
Roof: 1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 11-inch fence board
Roof: 1 – 5/8 x 4 ¾ x 11-inch fence board
1. Attach the sides to the bottom using the 1 ¼-inch deck screws. If you have an 8-inch or larger clamp then clamp the sides to the bottom before drilling and screwing.
2. Attach top to the sides. Try to make the outside edges of the top flush with the outside edges of the sides. Use scrap wood as spacers to line up the edges before drilling.
3. Cut the back cover to match the shape of the roof. Attach the back.
4. Build a simple pitch roof as shown. Attach so that it extends 2 inches in front of the house to keep out rain.
5. Place the tubes in the house. A variety of tube sizes can be used. Place sticks and wood inside to keep the tubes secure. As the tubes fill with bee cocoons you can move them to a safe place, to avoid disease and predators, until they’re harvested later.
6. Attach your bee house securely to a fence post or under an overhang so it faces the morning sun and is out of the rain.
2. Tube Bee House
The tube bee house is a simple house that uses purchased cardboard tubes and liners. You can buy tubes and liners on the internet or possibly your local garden center. Liners are necessary to clean the cocoons while keeping the cardboard tubes for the following year (you need new liners each year). The removable top allows access to the tubes and liners, or, remove the liners without opening the top by using tweezers.
1 – 5/8 x 7 ¼ x 36-inch untreated fence board
1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 24-inch untreated fence board
1 – 1/8-inch hardboard, approx. 6 ½ by 7 ¼ inches
30 – 1 ¼-inch deck screws (they do not rust)
20 – mason bee 8 mm cardboard tubes and liners, or leafcutter 6 mm size
1 – mounting screw – 2 ½-inch deck screw
Sides: 2 – 5/8 x 7 ¼ x 8-inch fence board
Bottom: 1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 6-inch fence board
Front and Back: 2 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 6 ½-inch fence board
Roof: 1 – 5/8 x 7 ¼ x 8-inch fence board
Back Cover: 1 – 1/8 x 6 ½ x 7 ¼-inch hardboard
Holder: 1 – 5/8 x 7 ¼ x 2-inch fence board
1. On the front piece lay out a grid 1 inch from the bottom and 1 inch from the left side. Mark hole locations 1 inch on-center from the bottom left starting point. Once you’ve drawn the grid on the front use double-sided tape to attach the back to the front. Now use a 3/8-inch spade drill bit to bore holes that will align. Remove the double-sided tape.
2. Create a house frame by attaching the 2 sides to the bottom making sure that the back edges are flush. Predrill all holes to minimize splitting the wood. Use a 1/16-inch drill bit. (figure 1)
3. Insert and attach the front to the house frame ensuring that the front is flush with the bottom. It will be 2 inches back from the side edges.
4. Now attach the back in the same manner, this time flush with the bottom and both sides. (figure 2)
5. Insert cardboard tubes and liners for mason bees. It’s much easier now rather than after the top is attached. (figure 3)
6. Attach the roof, back cover and holder. Hang the bee house securely to face the morning sun. Avoid the hot afternoon sun it may harm the bees. (figure 4)
7. Mason bees will occupy the house in early spring in the 8 mm tubes. Leafcutter bees will occupy the house in summer in the 6 mm size tubes.
8. To harvest cocoons, pull liners with tweezers or remove top.
3. Solid Block Bee House
Choose a flat or pitched roof. This house uses homemade liners out of parchment paper or plain paper. Parchment paper is available at most major grocery stores. It’s sturdier and will not tear as easily if it gets wet. Remove liners at the end of the season to clean and to store the bee cocoons.
1 – 2 x 6 x 36-inch fir
1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 24-inch untreated fence board (36-inch board if making a pitched roof)
20 approximately – 1 ¼-inch deck screws
12 – 2-inch deck screws
25 – 3/8-inch cardboard tubes
Blocks: 4 – 1 ½ x 5 ½ x 6 ¾-inch fir
Sides: 2 – 5/8 x 5 x 3-inch fence board
Back: 1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 6 ¾-inch fence board
Flat Roof: 1 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 8 ½-inch fence board OR Pitched Roof: 2 – 5/8 x 5 ½ x 9 ½-inch fence board
1. Start with four identical blocks of fir.
2. Draw grid on one block for holes no closer than 1 inch from bottom and 1 inch from side and top. Make distance between holes no less than 1 inch on center.
3. Label each block with numbers #1 through #4.
4. A flat roof is simpler and will slightly reduce the amount of fence board you will need. For a flat roof go on to step 6.
5. The following are directions for a pitched roof:
- Mark the center of the long end of one of the blocks.
- At the right edge of the block measure 1 inch from the top and mark the spot. Do the same on the left edge.
- Draw a line from the left edge mark to the top-center mark.
- Draw a line from the right edge mark to the top center mark.
- Cut off the corners that you’ve just marked.
- Use this first piece as a pattern. Trace its outline on the other three blocks and cut off their corners.
6. Put #1 and #2 together with double-sided tape.
7. Drill the holes in block #1 and #2 with a 3/8-inch spade bit. (figure 5)
8. Separate # 1 from #2 and remove the double-sided tape.
9. Join #2 and #3 with double-sided tape. #2 will serve as a guide for #3. This ensures you’ll have a straight hole when you join all four blocks.
10. Using #2 as a guide drill holes in #3.
11. Separate #2 from # 3 and remove the double-sided tape.
12. Tape #3 to #4 and drill the holes as before.
13. Screw #3 to #4 using 2-inch deck screws.
14. Screw #2 to the #3 & #4 combination.
15. Screw #1 to the #2, #3 and #4 combination.
16. Run your drill bit through each hole to be sure the parchment paper will fit. (figure 6)
Getting Ready for the Bees
1. Make tube liners. Cut a 7-inch by 3-inch parchment paper and wrap around a dowel or pencil. Place pencil in hole and twist to remove pencil.
2. Insert the parchment paper rolls into each hole. (figure 7)
3. Pull liner to back to make the front edge slightly sticking out front or even with the front. Fold down the parchment paper at the back of the house making a good crease.
4. Attach the back using 1 ¼-inch deck screws. Predrill your holes with a 1/16-inch drill bit. (figure 8)
5. Put on a roof and sides that extend at least 2 inches past the front of the house. Be creative with the sides. We created a curvy design for fun. Attach the bee house securely to a fence post or under an overhang so it faces the morning sun.
6. Remove the mason bees and clean the tubes around October. Open the back for access to the liners. Next season replace the liners.
If you want to give native bees some extra incentive to visit the bee houses you build, create an environment your native bees will love by growing your own wildflower patch. Even small spaces can be transformed into mini-meadows!