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 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.

Update: Preventing pests and disease

Once you’ve made your bee home, David Coles (reader of this blog), adds  this advice  from a volunteer at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust (thanks David):

“The single most important thing with a bee hotel is that it should be cleaned out every year, all the pupae removed and cleaned as well and then presented for release the following year. With new materials installed every year for the bees to return to, otherwise your bee hotel will become infested with parasites and full of nothing but dead bees. Cleanliness and an annual routine are vital to maintain the health of the colony.”

I contacted the Bumblebee Conservation Trust for more information on how to do this and they suggested this excellent article. If you decide to make a bee home, do please take a look at this – it is full of wise and useful information.


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

36 thoughts on “How to make a bee home that really works”

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  5. Krista Lonsdale

    Interesting. But it hasn`t told us any dimensions and I`ve been toild me commercial bee house is way to shallow. I kinda got an idea from comparing it to Kate`s hand by measurements would be better.

  6. Hi all!
    Love gardening! Anxious to put up my 2 bought bee hotels in Colorado. I have a few questions. When is best time of year and direction to place them? When should they be taken down to clean and store for the next year?
    Thanks for the help.

  7. How do I clean out the mason bee nest? Do I just replace the tubes with new ones? When do I do this, if that is what I need to do? I am not sure what to do with the nest during the winter. Do I store it in my garage, or can I just leave it outside? I am in Zone 7 on Long Island, NY. Thank you.

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  9. After having success with a smallish bee hotel I have now made two new larger ones. The only canes that I have to hand are ‘split in parts’ I would assume that these are not suitable but is that the case?

  10. I live in California although I am british thru and thru. I am building my first Bee House and then found this site which showed smaller ways to make them, darn I made mine big – but never mind I will post a pic when its completed. I am trying to further on the Monarch Butterflies by raising their eggs to the final butterfly. The movement for doing this is growing here. So I have a wild life area in my garden for all bees, insects, wasps whatever they are all needed. (except the damn mosquitos ). Thanks for lots of info Jenniewren

  11. The single most important thing with a bee hotel is that it should be cleaned out every year all the pupae removed and cleaned as well and then presented for release the following year. With new materials installed every year for the bees to return to, otherwise your bee hotel will become infested with parasites and full of nothing but dead bees. Cleanliness and an annual routine are vital to maintain the health of the colony.

      1. I am confused by the information that they should be cleaned out every year. The German nature and biodiversity conservation union says that some solitary bees take more than one year to develop. So wouldn’t cleaning everything out risk killing this brood?
        Also they say that solitary bees do not use the pine cone behind a mesh sections and that those are just in the ones you can buy because they are cheap and easy to do. Has anyone seen bees. Actually nest in that section?
        Maybe german solitary bees are different in those aspects. But wouldn’t that be strange?

  12. Hello, when should these be put out? In the summer so the queen has a chance to lay eggs which will hatch and hibernate for the year? Would there be any point in putting some out now (late August?)

    1. Hi Graeme, I’m not expert on beas but I think that some will still be laying eggs now so it would be worth putting up now. Even if they don’t use it this year, it will be in place for spring next year.

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  14. 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!

  15. 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??

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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

  19. 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.


  20. 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

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

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  24. 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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