How to Make a DIY Bee House

A bee house made with a large can is a project a child or adult can do together. This one hangs in the backyard of the Payne’s house in Irondale, Alabama. (photos by Bob Farley)

I missed National Pollinator Week earlier this month, but every week should be pollinator week! No more procrastinating! I am going to get busy and make some bee houses for my yard.

If you haven’t heard by now, bees are in trouble. While we may think the trouble extends to large agriculture operations, habitat destruction, and other bigger environmental issues, and that we can’t do anything about it on a personal level, we can take a DIY approach towards correcting some of the problems by making bee houses. Don’t be afraid of buzzing creatures, as they are the little guys that pollinate your flowers and vegetables. As we cultivate our landscapes, we should take it upon ourselves to be responsible land stewards and do our part in taking care of the environment and all of the creatures that live in it.

I learned more about bees and backyard conservation at this year’s Birmingham Audubon Mountain Workshop. The camp is for adults and young naturalists, and it is held at a beautiful camp on Lookout Mountain in Mentone, Alabama. Instructors range from biology professors to local naturalists, to art instructors, to folklorists. Some topics of the workshops include primitive pottery, botany, ecology, edible plants, reptiles and amphibians, bird identification, folk graveyards of Alabama, gardening for wildlife, fossils, lichens, moths, butterflies, wetlands, and bees. The camp is most fun, and I learn so much every year.

During the workshop, Dr. Malia Fincher talked about the perils of honeybees and wild native bees as she gave instructions on how to make a bee house and become a backyard conservationist.

Dr. Malia Fincher from Samford University led workshops (one for kids and one for adults) on how to make bee houses for wild native bees. During the workshop, she talked about the mysterious disappearances of honeybee colonies receiving a lot of attention in the media and by researchers, and explained that many species of native pollinators are also likely to be in decline. She further explained, “These native bee species are vulnerable to many of the same threats facing honeybees: diseases, habitat loss, pesticides and other man-made chemicals in the environment, and, in the long term, climate change. Residential areas can contain many of these threats to pollinator populations, but may also provide much needed resources for pollinators.”

This is where the DIY approach comes in handy. Malia explains, “Many people are reluctant to encourage flying, potentially stinging insects to take up residence in their yard, but gardens and yards can provide important refuges, nesting sites, and food for native pollinators. Residential areas often provide a variety of nectar-rich flowers, and because homeowners usually provide water for these plants even during a drought, they can provide food sources for pollinators when nectar from wild plants may be in short supply.” She offers another DIY project as well, “If you add a water source, which can be as simple as a tray of pebbles and water, and some nesting sites, you can make your yard a pollinator-friendly habitat.”

Katie Motlow-Payne made a bee house, and so did her children who attended the young naturalist workshop. The Paynes also have honeybee boxes in their backyard.

Making a bee house is a simple and fun family project. For the workshops, Malia brought large vegetable cans and asked participants to fill them with materials that may be used as nesting cavities. Wood blocks, wooden dowels, paper tubes (students used pencils as a form for wrapping to make paper tubes), paper drinking straws, and bamboo were some of the things she brought for the fillers. All of the materials were cut the same length to fit flush within the can. Holes were drilled into the wood using a long drill bit. After the can was filled, and holes were drilled, the outside of the houses were decorated and string was attached for hanging.

After the can is filled with the various materials and the dowels and wood is drilled, a string is attached to the can to complete the bee house for hanging. The house can be decorated by paints or markers if one prefers.

You can experiment with other materials and housing vessels. Try using a terra cotta pot or build a pollinator home or if you want to get carried away, a pollinator hotel.

Paper tubes, wooden dowels, bamboo canes, paper drinking straws, and wood blocks cut to a uniform size fills the can. The materials are packed into the can, and tenth wood blocks and dowels are drilled with a long drill bit.

 Have you ever made a bee house? How do you encourage pollinators to visit your yard?

29 Responses

  1. guest 2 says:

    carpenter bees is what I meant…are they big?

  2. guest 2 says:

    hey tracey you're speaking of wood carving bees they are very destructive..

  3. Tracey M. says:

    I have wood bees every year that make their nests in my deck covering! Contrary to what has been said here, they are aggressive. They don't sting but they do try and run me off the deck. How can I encourage them to move elsewhere? They are going to destroy my porch covering.

    • Michelle Reynolds says:

      Carpenter bees can be annoying. They do like to bore through wood that is coated though. I have a wooden column from an old house on my front porch. It is decor and it is a carpenter bee house. I did not intend for this, but the bees use the column instead of my porch ceiling. Yea!

  4. Angie says:

    We have what appears to be a large hive that has taken up residence in a large storage unit in our pole barn. There are many bees miling around the outside of this storage unit. This unit holds tools and gardening supplies and I envision it being full of honey comb and honey. I'd love to move them into proper hives but do not know how. We live in a very rural area away from all small towns and big cities. Any advice as what I can do?

    • Michelle Reynolds says:

      It sounds like you might have honeybees. My advice would be to call your local extension and find a beekeeper to come and move the bees. Good luck!

      • Angie says:

        Thanks for the reply, Michelle, but the hive is now gone. I noticed the number of bees milling around the storage locker were practically nil about 3 days after my post. So, got the courage to open the doors from afar and sure enough there was a large honeycomb in the center and on the inside of both doors. all bees were gone with the exception of dead babies in the comb. I've noticed very odd behavior in the bees where we live. In March of 2010, we had a home built and even though the Anaukua trees and wild flowers were in bloom, the bees started gathering the caulking around the exterior windows and doors. It was heart breaking to watch them gather the caulk, put it on their legs and fly to their hive. I knew they would be goners.
        Thanks for reading my disertation. I am going to pray for all bees and their survival.

  5. Chris L. says:

    Yes, these are instructions for a Mason bee house and smaller native bees. I noticed these bees using my trellises I built out of bamboo poles this year. Yay!!! I'm going to try to build them some more nesting sites/boxes. Now, I just wish the Monarchs would come back to my milkweed. Haven't seen one yet.

  6. Mfh says:

    The type of bee attracted to this kind of house is not the regular honey bee. These are Masonary bees that are more solitary and don't make comb and store up honey. They are not aggressive, each bee is solitary and makes her own nest in one of the tubes or holes. She lays eggs one at a time, plugging the egg in with mud, with multiple eggs per hole. Masonary bees pollinate the same as honey bees and are seen as beneficial to gardens.

  7. kelvin says:

    Fantastic solution guys!!

  8. TN Dad says:

    Hey Guest – DIY Network should be ashamed?? Really? I think you missed the intro: "Dr. Malia Fincher from Samford University led workshops….." "During the workshop, Dr. Malia Fincher talked about the perils of honeybees and wild native bees as she gave instructions on how to make a bee house and become a backyard conservationist."

  9. Guest says:

    This is nonsense as the bee's need large hives to sustain themselves. Too hot in the summer and would freeze in the winter. Projects like these help diminish bee colonies. DIY Network should be ashamed of this post!

    • Jim Corcoran says:

      These are Mason Bee holes. You probably have them all around you in your house siding already. The bee finds a small hoe then places an egg then pollen. he longer the hole the ore eggs. At the end of the hole it is sealed with mud. The cans would probably "bee" better taken inside in the winter. I have wood 4×4 posts that I drilled holes in and they do fine outside over winter.

    • Bee9fromOuterSpace says:

      The whole point of these "Bee Houses" is to support flying insects that DO NOT hive – like the honeybees you obviously mistook as the subject of this article. Read more before reacting.

  10. Susie says:

    What attracts them to this bee house? Do you just hang it and see if they come to it? How long does it take usually?

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About Michelle Reynolds 

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I’m a slipcover maker who refuses to fill the trash with the cutaway bits of designer fabrics, so I strive to make use of every scrap. I live with my ...

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