I have been raising mason bees for years which means I am always buying new nesting tubes. That gets a little expensive. But over the weekend I attended a workshop down at Oregon State University and learned how to make tubes for free; not only for mason bees but for many of our other native cavity nesting bees.
Oregon’s native bees are great pollinators and providing nesting sites can increase their populations and for many crops will result in better yields. In modern landscapes we tend to be neat and tidy which often results in the removal of nesting sites. Bee hotels are a way to keep a manicured yard while still providing nesting sites.
Mason bees are the poster child for these native bees and many homeowners and schools are raising them these days. There are many other solitary bees such as leaf-cutter bees and sweat bees that are also great pollinators. Many of these bees can benefit from a bee hotel made out of natural bee tubes. Here is a quick and easy way to make your own bee nesting tubes.
STEP 1 Find a patch of dead teasel. This should not be hard as it grows in any area with disturbed soil such a crop margins and roads. It is not a native plant and most landowners would be happy to have you remove them.
STEP 2 Cut the teasel stems into pieces that are approximately six inches long. The first cut should be just under the node where the leaves attach. That junction is solid so the bees do not have to plug that end. Do not worry about the different opening sizes – different species of native bees will use different tubes.
STEP 3 Take the tubes and bundle them using rubbers bands or place them into your mason bee house. If you are doing this for a kids project, fill a soup can with these tubes and let the kids decorate the cans. Then hang the cans on an east or south east facing wall.
It is that simple. And in the fall you can split natural tubes with a razor blade and harvest your cocoons. As an alternative, you can use cow parsnip. The stems are much larger so you should only use the first couple of sections.