How to make a bee home that really works

Bee and insect hotels made by Marta Zientek and Wojciech

If you’ve only got a tiny growing space in the city, is there anything you can do to help bees?

The answer is yes! I met up with Kate Bradbury, BBC wildlife expert and author of the The Wildlife Gardener, to find out what you can do for bees in a small urban space like a balcony, a few window sills or a small patch of concrete.

Bees in cities commonly have a shortage of both of food and nesting places, says Kate.  You can help by growing flowers (Kate recommends some good ones for bees below) and by making a home for solitary bees (watch how in the video).

If you’re wondering how you can make your bee hotel look more beautiful than the one I made in the video (!), check out the pictures of Marta Zientek’s hotels – and see her tips for what to use at the bottom of the page.

Create a solitary bee home

You may be wondering, like I was, if insect homes actually work.

According to Kate, although some can be gimmicky, solitary bee homes definitely do.

In the video below, she explains why solitary bees are in desperate need of more nesting places in the city. She shows how to make a small home for them. These homes are easy to make and take up very little space. All you need is a wall that gets sun in the morning on which to hang them.


Choose the right flowers for bees

Some flowers are more nutritious for bees than others, explains Kate. Good choices for bees in the edible container garden include:

  • Borage flowers refill with nectar every two minutes – and so offer a nearly constant supply for bees. The small leaves are also edible and the flowers look amazing in summer drinks.
  • Legumes have particularly nutritious pollen, high in protein. This can help bees grow strong and healthy.  Legumes include the excellent (and delicious) container crops like French beans, runner beans, and peas (go for mange tout type peas in containers). Or you can grow birds foot trefoil or clover in your pots – they look pretty and, if you dig them in, they will add fertility as they fix nitrogen from the air (they are sometimes called “green manures” for this reason).
  • Pot marigold (calendula), loved by many beneficial insects, including bees. The flower petals are edible and look great in salads.
  • An apple tree or a kilmarnock willow tree – bees will love the blossom, a great choice if you’ve got space for a big pot.
Borage flowers are a magnet for bees. The refill with nectar every two minutes.

Borage flowers are a magnet for bees. They refill with nectar every two minutes.

How to make a beautiful insect hotel

The bee home shown in the video will work fine but won’t win any art competition, I’ll be the first to admit! (Made myself in a rush one evening).  But they can be really beautiful – as Marta Zientek shows us below, thank you for sharing Marta. (To see more of Marta and her partner, Wojciech, creative projects, do check out their Facebook Page.)

Bee and insect hotel made by Marta Zientek and Wojciech.

Bee and insect hotel made by Marta Zientek and Wojciech.

Here are Marta’s tips to help you recreate one of her beautiful homes.

Firstly you need to find some materials, and  the more you use recycled or reclaimed materials the better.

If you want to make a hanging insect  hotel you will need  to make a wooden box. For this you can use a pallet wood, there is always plenty around.

Then going for a walk to the park or woods where you can find lots of natural materials it’s a good idea, look for pine cons, old bark, sticks, small pieces of dead wood, dried grass, straw and leaves, this is really great acctivity to do with your kids outdoors…other than this you can also use pieces of broken clay pot or broken tea cup, coconut shells or roof tiles. Try to use natural materials so the insects are familiar with the smell and texture and the environment is healthy for them.

Once you have a box, with back wall blocked start filling it with the materials you have collected, try to make lots of segments and compartments, different in size and shape, each compartment can be stuffed with natural materials so variety of insects can enjoy it.

Drill few wholes  in the wood pieces, use bamboo canes, they naturally have wholes in ,or dried sticks bundled loosely, so insects can travel inside them, this will provide somewhere for insects to lay eggs or to hibernate in.  Secure elements with the nails,string or wire  so it stays in place, hang it in the garden, and wait for your guests.

The whole design really depends on your imagination, you can make it really simple or give it more artistic look but what matters the most is creating supportive environment for the important pollinating species. Maybe make another one and give it to your friend as a present!”

Another of Marta Zientek and Wojciech's creations using found and recycled materials.

Another of Marta Zientek and Wojciech’s creations using found and recycled materials.


Your turn

Have you made any sort of insect home for your growing space? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Or if you decide to make your own, I’d love to hear how it works out – if you fancy emailing me a pic, send it to

12 comments… add one

  • Such a great idea. They look great, make a fun project for kids and above all, lend a helping hand to struggling bees!

  • Thank you for the tutorial, less threatened by the idea of building some with my students. We have moved the butterfly garden to a larger location and this will be a wonderful addition. Thank you!

  • Oh, I love this, I will make a bee-hotel myself – or two – hope it isn’t too late this year to see some bees or other insekts move in – late juli??

    • It’s not my area of expertise, Bente, but as far as I know, yes – I think solitary bees will still be laying eggs into August and some into September. Anyone know for sure?

  • Actually, no DIY skills are necessary. I spent much of my adult life designing and making furniture so any chance NOT to bang bits of wood together is taken. Today’s hotel was made from a scrap length of 100mm (4″) plastic pipe. Just keep stuffing in the bamboo until it will not fall out.

  • Love these bee hotels. Hopefully my DIY skills are up to making one, and I’m going to plant borage on my allotment as that sounds like bee heaven.
    Half the pleasure of having an allotment is taking the time to stand still and just watch bees, butterflies and birds busily getting on with their lives.

  • It’s good that folks care.
    Even better if you can get some old honeycomb from a beekeeper.
    Bees love the scent of it and all bees make hexagonal cells so they would have a head start. To get drones the homes must have larger cells.
    Also I wouldn’t paint the finished product. Leave it natural. x

  • Hi Alice

    Regarding wasps, can I help persuade you to like them too? Wasps are also really important, as they eat a huge amount of garden pests and also do a bit of pollination. There are many wasp species in Britain and it’s only some social species – including the common wasp and the German wasp – that really cause problems, and that’s only for a couple of weeks in late summer. The rest of the time they’re beavering away taking aphids snd caterpillars off our plants – we hardly notice them.


  • Wonderful! Thanks for this tutorial, bees are the most important insects in the world!
    Maybe u can help me… How can i suggest bee and not wasps to Make their home? We have a lot of wasps in our mini garden and every year wasps make their hotel under our roof.
    Thanks a lot for your help

  • Can’t wait to build some bee houses. Have always love woodworking and gardening. Have several birdhouses so now need to do something for the bees. Thank you for a wonderful, informative website.

  • We have a small garden with a patio, and two small patches of lawn, one besides the patio, one in front of the house. When we moved there I was eager to care for wild bees, so we planted a hedge of wild roses (rosa rugosa) in front of the house. Close to the patio we planted a small meadow for bees, and of course we have other bee-friendly plants in containers and borders, lots of herbs, lavender, historic roses, and shrubs like buddeleia and lilac. We absolutely need the bees in our garden, for we have raspberry, blackberry, red and black currant shrubs, and veggies in containers in the summer. One very small bee hotel and one for the butterflies are on the wall of our garden shed, but I would like to have bigger one, and the ideas above are wonderful – thank you for that.

  • 5 Star hotels for bees! Gorgeous, I’ll make one today. I remember watching a large bumble bee as it came into my workshop, obviously intent on going to bed. It spotted me, circled around and bumbled away. So I hid and waited. A couple of minutes later it (or one very similar) came back and flew directly into a wren’s old nesting site. Very cosy, I imagine.


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