Over the last six weeks, I've had the pleasure of leading an online 'course' for thousands of people starting out on making their gardens and outside spaces better for nature.

They've been able to watch little videos from me as I make birdbaths, create pop-up meadows and grow wildlife-friendly plants.

One of the activities was to make a Bee Hotel, which very typically is done by creating some kind of box and filling it with lengths of hollow cane and plant stem. But I'm always aware that doing all that is quite an effort - after all, where do you find a hundred hollow plant stems at the drop of a hat?

So instead, the Bee Hotel we looked at making was the 10-minute version, involving just a drill and a log.

I was able to show how you can have fun with it because you can drill any pattern you want in the log. Here was my version:

But does it work?

Well, I'm pleased to say that even thought my hotel only opened its doors to customer five weeks ago, they have been quick to give it a try.

In fact, it onty took two days for the first visitors to arrive.

And last weekend I managed to get myself into position to photograph some of my welcome guests.

This is my favourite:

This is a female leafcutter bee flying in carrying a disc of leaf she has just cut from a nearby plant. You can even see the little bite marks around the edge of the leaf.

What she will do is then take the leaf into the hole, roll it as if she is wallpapering the sides, take in a supply of pollen as a larder of babyfood, lay an egg, and then use another section of leaf to seal it into its own hidden nursery.

With much diligence from this determined mother, the drilled hole will become a line of her little nursery cells, filled from back to front.

Here is her completed handiwork, before she moved on to the next hole:

However, she needs to be on her toes, because there are big dangers in her world to be watchful for.

Here's one of them. It is a sharp-tailed bee, living up to its name. Now you'd think that as this is a bee it shouldn't be a problem, but sharp-tailed bees target the nests of leaf-cutter bees.

This female is looking to steal into a leafcutter bee's nesting chamber and lay her own eggs next to those of the host. When the sharp-tailed bee larva emerges, it will eat both the leaf-cutter bee's egg, and then its pollen.

An even more dramatic visitor to my Bee Hotel was this, an ichneumon fly.

There are several very similar species, so I can't say for sure that this one is specifically hunting for the nesting chambers of my particular type of leafcutter bee, for each ichneumon tends to have one type of insect it specialises in.

But what we do know is that this is a female ichneumon with her incredibly long, fine egg-laying tube (her ovipositor), which means she can inject her eggs deep into holes in the wood.

(POST SCRIPT: With the help of my colleague, Will George, and his links to a national ichneumon expert, Gavin Broad, I now know that this is a creature called Perithous scurra, for which I've found the colloquial English name of Elegant Lady! And now we know what she is, we also know that she is, indeed, hunting down the nests of solitary bees and wasps.)

If you'd like to have a share of the action and open your own hotel, just remember the few simple but golden rules:

  • Drill holes of different diameters, between about 2mm and 10mm and no greater than that.
  • The holes should be as deep as your drill bit allows.
  • The holes should be free of sawdust, and the entrances without splinters so that the insects don't snag their wings.
  • The Hotel should be in a stable position
  • If possible, position the Hotel between about knee to waist height (although, as my Hotel shows, I'm getting takers for holes barely 15cm off the ground).
  • And critically it should face south(ish) in a sunny position - these insects like it hot, hot, hot.

And that's it. You've created bijou accommodation where several species of solitary bee like my leafcutters can raise their brood, and where all sorts of dramas can unfold.

Anonymous