We Have a Vacancy: Building a Bug Hotel for Solitary Bees

Now here’s a project that doesn’t take too much time and is simply perfect for the whole family. The materials used for this are all items you can hunt for in parks or woods and make for a great excuse to go on a hike. With a little help from adults, kids can have a blast assembling these amazing and beneficial homes.

What I’m looking to attract are solitary bees. Many people think that honey bees and bumble bees are the only types of bees around. The fact is that they only represent about 10% of the bee species around and aren’t even native to North America. A majority of bees don’t make honey, but one thing that they do make is excellent pollinators!

Just one solitary bee, like the mason bee, can do the pollination work of 120 honey bees! They lack the little pollen baskets that honey bees have so they visit flowers way more often than social bees. And because they don’t have that golden treasure trove to protect, they don’t swarm and are safe around people and pets. There are three basic types of solitary bees but all come in varying shapes and sizes.

Solitary bees will either chew tunnels with their strong mandibles (like the carpenter bees) or they will seek out existing burrows left by beetles or hollow stems (like the mason or leaf cutter bee) to lay their eggs. They’ll crawl to the back to deposit an egg and then leave a lovely little packed lunch of pollen and nectar for the baby to eat. She’ll leave just enough room for the larvae to develop and then seal it off and repeat the process until the cavity is filled.

Wild bee cells. Via
Wild bee cells. Via

She can control whether the egg is male or female and lays females towards the back as males hatch before females do. That way the bees can emerge without blocking one another. I guess at least in the bee world, the males mature faster.

These types of bees are so often overlooked when people think about the recent decline in pollinators. Yet they do far more work than the honey bees do in that regard. All the more reason to do a cool project like making a place for them to live. Urban environments are not very forgiving when it comes to providing a home to these useful critters. Gardeners seldom leave dead wood laying around or old stems from plants that the bees would normally call home.

So not only is this a simple and fun project to get the whole family involved in, you’re doing a great service which will only provide you with enrichment as well as a bountiful crop! You and the kids can monitor the tunnels and see what variety of species have moved in. On rainy days, you’ll see them in there staying dry but most of the time you’ll know they’re using the home when you see the ends sealed up. This would also make for a great project for schools, especially those that have gardens.

So let’s get to the fun part…the building of the house. Continue reading “We Have a Vacancy: Building a Bug Hotel for Solitary Bees”

A New Bed for the Coastal Coral Tree with a Cardboard Weed Barrier

Before I begin this post, I’d like to say how today was total providence!

I began this project around 9 am as overhead clouds hung low and fat with a promise of rain. After having THE hottest summer in recorded history, getting a day like today to work outside is truly a gift. As I labored away, which you will see below, I would often stop and look up with a ginormous grin on my face as fat drops of water pounded my face.

Exactly when I took my very last photograph after finishing this project, the sun popped out around 2pm and the heat came back with a vengeance. Just as I was slipping in the front door to sit in front of my many fans. My feelings can best be summed up via the masterpiece film A Scanner Darkly, based on the Phillip K. Dick novel. See it. Read it. Now.

I’m calling this a sign that today’s post was meant to be. That said, let’s begin.


My coastal coral tree, which I’ve written about a few times here, has proven to be quite the fast grower. Every year it doubles in size. Much to my immense pleasure. Here it is as a young pup. Also, this specimen was from a branch cutting . You can learn how to propagate coastal corals right over here. Or how to prune this tree over here.

It’s grown so damn fast that the paltry tree ring I placed lovingly around it is now dwarfed in only two years. It looks like a poor geisha girl with feet bound and shoes too tight. That, coupled with some incessant crab grass, has caused me to want to remedy the situation. Just look at this unsightly mess!

A New Bed for the Coastal Coral 01_The unsightly mess

A New Bed for the Coastal Coral 02_The unsightly mess detail

Good lord! You can’t even see the ring any more! Something must be done to free up the tree trunk as well as the carnations surrounding it. In case you’re about to cast judgment upon me for the length of my grass, rest assured it is completely intentional. This summers experiment involved some tight state-mandated water restrictions because of our continued drought.

I am proud to say that I’ve maintained a lush and healthy green lawn ALL season long. Using about 30% of the water I used in previous years. The length of the grass is all part of the experiment. A rather successful one at that. Interested in learning more? Go here.


 But let’s get back to our new tree bed shall we? Continue reading “A New Bed for the Coastal Coral Tree with a Cardboard Weed Barrier”

Piper’s New House

Before I begin this little story, please forgive my long absence. I shan’t bore you with the messy and gritty details as to why I went off the rails, but I will say that every now and again my career at the museum tends to draw energy into itself. Like a black hole, not even light can escape.

I’m not saying that I’ve been there 24/7, but the times when I was finally home and could’ve written you many posts, something had happened to my brain as well as my will power. I sat in front of the computer and drooled. Devoid of any sense or reason, I typed the same thing over and over and over. “All work and no play makes James a dull boy”

This was then proceeded by a short stint working as the off season manager of the Overlook Hotel and then some other stuff that I can’t seem to recall. I vaguely remember some kind of hedge maze…

Regardless, I am here again. I humbly thank you for you patience. Let us continue our journey shall we?…

During my downtime at the Overlook Hotel, I also engaged in one or two projects. One of which was to design and construct a new coop for Piper to finally get her away from those chicken bullies. I had a finite amount of scrap wood and hardware in the garage and seeing as I had no extra money to spend on the project, I wanted to make said supplies work for a nice little coop design. With such tight parameters, there was only on thing to do; build it all first in a 3D program. Once again, I turned to SketchUp, the best free program in the universe. I used this program to design my larger loft style coop as well.

Firstly, I added all of the scrap pieces into the program to begin to piece them all together. With a little Tetris-like arranging, I was able to maximize my yield and crate a cut list with my meager supplies. No room for error with this carpentry project!

Measure fifteen times, cut once!
Measure fifteen times, cut once!

Full disclosure, I didn’t actually use that old-timey drill seen in the above photo. I just thought it would look nicer than my Panasonic cordless. What a deceitful carpenter I be! Yeah? Get over it.

Here’s the final 3D rendering in a futuristic video form. What wonders we shall see!

 

Impressive yes? I can’t stress enough how much I love SketchUp. To be able to maximize my yield as well as test all the doors and hinges is priceless. Once all the details were worked out and the design was polished, I began assembling the coop. No small task as every single piece of wood was used, full of holes and painted. So I spent most of my time sanding, refinishing the wood and pulling nails and staples.

It took a lot longer to build than I anticipated but I really got into a zen state from all the sanding and shaping of the reclaimed wood. I haven’t spent this much time on a carpentry project since I was Head Carpenter at the San Diego Museum of Art. It did my soul good to work on this project. Also, it turned out pretty close to my original drawing. Check it out.

Pipers new coop 13A_Composite 1

Pipers new coop 13B_Composite 2

Pipers new coop 13C_Composite 3

Pipers new coop 13D_Composite 4

Not too shabby huh? But what good is all this work if it isn’t properly Piper approved? No good. To answer my own question. So the next stage was to get the little fuzzy fluffball inside to test it out.

All in all, I think she approves. However, I am not too happy with the size restrictions here. I want to get another silkie hen to keep her company and there’s barely enough room for Piper. Perhaps I should have bitten the bullet and purchased some extra lumber. Hind sight is 20/20.

I’ve decided to open up the back panels and add an additional room to the back which will double the width of her coop without causing me to lose any of the hard work I’ve already done. I’ll submit my permits for an add-on with the city post haste. No, no I won’t. Shhh!

I also was planning on giving her a mini run on those planter beds to the right of the coop so she can better peck and scratch for bugs an critters and such. Between those two additions, I’ll feel better about having two bantam breeds in this mini-coop. Until then, I’m keeping her in with the big girls. It shouldn’t be too long of a wait though.

Then I’ll just have to wait for her fluffy feathers to grow back so she can reclaim her past glory. Just look at this little fluffball! Can you tell that I’m in love with this little angel? Now I’ve always loved chickens…on my plate. This is different though, because she loves me back! Raise a glass to our poor tortured heroine for soon she shall have peace and retirement and sweet cooing happiness.

Pipers New Coop 024_Piper Inspection 11