Building a Bee Box
Bee Good To Your Garden
by Elaine West, Tucson Botanical Gardens Docent
Gardeners looking for non-stinging alternatives to defensive honey bee colonies as pollinators need to mount bee boxes. Native desert bees are solitary rather than social, and nest in holes in the ground or within dead wood of Agave or Yucca stalks, tree trunks, branches or twigs. Carpenter bees drill their own nest cells but other desert bees will use artificial wooden nesting materials called bee boxes. Bee boxes consist of blocks of wood drilled with holes of various diameters to attract a diversity of native bees. Bee boxes attached to shady sites on trees or under the eaves of buildings result in female nesting bees quickly finding and using the new holey bee real estate.
As a gardener unwilling to hand pollinate squash, cucumbers, gourds and many other garden plants, a bee box offers a simple solution. A bee box is simple to build. Some scrap, untreated wood, a few nails or screws, a drill and a few different size drill bits is all it takes. The following instructions allow you to add bees to your environment with little effort and wonderful results.
- Begin with a 4×4 block of wood six to 7 inches long. DO NOT use Treated Lumber (any wood with a green tint is treated). A 2×4 doubled (two pieces stacked together) will also work but DO NOT glue together. This is the Body.
- Cut one end of the 4×4 or doubled 2x4s to form an angle or slope (refer to picture above). (To cut the angle use a miter box and hand saw or set the blade of a power saw at an angle.) The body of the bee box is ready for holes.
- Find or cut a piece of wood ¾ inch thick and 6 inches square for the Roof. (This works out to be a 1×6 that is 6 inches long, but you can cut something larger down to size or cut a piece of scrap plywood any thickness into a 6”x6” square).
- Cut a piece of wood about 10 inches long of any depth and at least the width of the 4×4. This is the Back
- All of the cutting is done, now to the drilling.
- Drill a hole in the Back from which you will hang the bee box. Arrange the piece with the 10” dimension oriented vertically. Drill a ½” hole about ¾” below the top of the piece, centered from side to side.
- Mark the front of the 4×4 body (the short side of the angle cut, refer to the picture above) to drill the holes. Start about 2 inches below the top edge and leave about 3/4” from the sides and bottom. Mark spots about 1/2 inch apart for ½ “, 3/8 “, ¼ “ and 3/16” holes. Remember the holes are different sizes, so mark for the appropriate size.
- Drill the holes as marked as deep as drill bit will allow. (Do not worry if you drill through the block, the back will seal the hole.) Make the holes as clean as possible, leaving smooth edges as the bees are particular about the holes.
- Align the back to the rear of the body with the bottoms even and the hanging hole at least 1” above the body. Attach the back with screws or nails along the edge, being careful not to enter any of the drilled holes.
- Align the roof to the angled top of the body and tight against the back. Attach the roof with nails or screws to overlap the sides and the front. This protects the block from moisture. Your box is ready for occupancy!
- Hang the box, using the hole in the back, under the eaves of the house or in a shady spot on a tree.
Remember to clean your Bee Box every year using a solution of one quart of water and one tablespoon of bleach. This disinfects the box and eliminates any mites or pests harmful to the bees.
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