By Jayden Earl

Each intern in the Nature Academy internship program at Matthaei Botanical Gardens & Nichols Arboretum chooses a summer project to research and report on. The project culminates in a poster displayed in Matthaei’s public indoor spaces. Interns also write a blog post about their project concept or the research they’ve conducted.

We’ve all heard about the decline of honeybees in our environment and the detrimental effect this could have on our natural spaces. But what about other pollinators who can pick up the slack? Mason and leafcutter bees, for example, the so-called solitary bees, do a fine job of pollination. These native bees nest—you guessed it—alone, instead of in colonies or hives like their diminishing relatives. They make their homes in tube-like spaces where they can properly seal in larva to protect them from the elements. But in places where land is becoming more developed and gardens scarcer, solitary bees are having trouble finding these special spaces. This is where you, the average gardener, can come to the rescue.

Kinds of bees
Different kinds of bees

This summer in the Gaffield Children’s Garden at Matthaei Botanical Gardens, I’m constructing a pollinator house. My hope is that this house will serve a dual purpose of attracting beneficial pollinators to the space and showcasing the many different types of pollinators that are native to our area. To help with this, I’m also creating a guide to pollinators and friends in the garden. It’s important for kids to learn from a young age the value of all pollinators, and education is the first step toward conservation of a species (or multiple in this case). With solitary bees transporting pollen on the hairs that cover their bodies, they are much better pollinators than honeybees, who only transport pollen with their legs. Yet honeybees are arguably among the best-known garden pollinators. Much of the focus has been on rescuing honeybee species, but only recently has the conversation turned to the preservation of other pollinators—specifically solitary bees.

There are many ways to make suitable habitats for these crucial pollinators that don’t sacrifice the beauty of our gardens. One easy DIY is a solitary bee “hotel” that strongly resembles a bird feeder and can be hung from fences, branches, or posts in much the same way, making for a subtle addition to your garden.

To start this project you’ll need:

  • Drill (with bits varying from 3/32” to 3/8”)
  • Section of a  4×4” untreated post (8” is the typical length)
  • Paint or stain (optional)
  • Post topper (can be found in the fencing section of a hardware or home improvement store)
  • Wood glue or super glue
  • String/twine/rope/any hanging material you prefer
  • Hot glue

Before starting this project, determine what type of pollinators you hope to attract. It really doesn’t matter much what pollinators you attract, but different varieties prefer different hole diameters. You can do a combination of different sizes to attract different types! For the sake of simplicity, let’s assume you want to attract mason bees. They prefer a hole anywhere from 7/32” to 3/8” in diameter. You can vary the sizes with different bits, or choose a size that is appealing to you and keep it consistent. Either way should work just fine. The holes will need to be around 3” deep into one side of your 4×4 post piece. You can choose to do a pattern—such as a swirl or bullseye—or you can make it regular with straight lines.

Once the holes have been drilled, you can paint or stain your wood piece or leave it natural. If painted, allow to dry completely before drilling holes. Drill a small hole in the very top of your post topper to allow for the hanging material to be strung through. It’s best to use the smallest drill bit you can find. Once this is done, you can tie your hanging material in a loop and then push it through the hole, keeping the tied side on the underside of the post topper. You may need a toothpick or something similar for this. After you finish that, you should hot glue the underside of the post topper to both seal the hole and secure the hanging material.

Once it is all sealed, use your wood or super glue to attach the topper to the post section. Allow this to dry for 24 hours, and then your pollinator hotel is done! Find a spot to hang it—preferably near some pollinator attracting flowers—and watch your creation become a new home for your garden helpers.

Bee hotel
Jayden Earl

Jayden Earl is one of two interns stationed in the Gaffield Children’s Garden this summer. She is a rising junior studying sociology at the University of Michigan. Jayden is from Holland, Mich., and while she misses her summers near Lake Michigan, she’s looking forward to exploring all Ann Arbor has to offer and is excited to take part in all of the exciting projects happening here at Matthaei-Nichols this summer. Jayden’s internship was made possible by a gift from Ann Arbor Farm & Garden.