Why would you want to offer lodging to insects, you ask? As organic gardeners, drawing in beneficial insects as pollinators is a great way to increase production in our backyard garden or small orchard. Beneficial insects also help to deal with the not-so-beneficial insects. So, we get to avoid chemicals and attract pollinators. That is a win-win in my book.
How do you make an insect hotel? The purpose is to provide a structure filled with natural materials for beneficial insects and pollinators to lay eggs in, as well as hibernate in. In our area in Kansas, we are hoping an insect hotel will attract mason bees, beetles, lacewings, ladybugs, wasps, and spiders. Not all sound like nice guests, but all are friends of the gardener. Attracting native pollinators is more important than ever with the decline of honey bees. We all need to make our garden a place of hospitality.
Basics. When we set out to build ours, we kept these two rules in mind: face the open side of the structure to the south so that insects will benefit from the sun's warmth, and cover the top to protect them from wet weather.
Structure. We gathered lots of natural, recycled materials. We started with an old wooden crate that had been hanging out in our shed. It was perfect, because it was only open on one side. We used discarded boards for making shelves and a pitched roof.
Building the rooms. Then came pine cones, old logs, twigs, bark, terracotta shards, and some materials that we gleaned from yard and garden clean up. This is the kind of project you can be as creative as you want with — so let those creative juices loose! You can also purchase components for insect habitats and even purchase complete habitats. We were able to build ours completely from materials we had lying around and spent nothing on it.
Drill holes. Here is our finished project. See all the nooks and crannies for the insects. Drill a variety of sized holes about 6 inches deep (don't drill all the way through as insects like a closed chamber to hibernate and lay their eggs in). Use a variety of sizes to attract lots of different "guests" (mason bees like their holes 5/16 in diameter, for instance).
Site the hotel. We set our completed hotel in a raised garden bed where we grow herbs. The mason bees love that bed and it is right next to where we always grow a big stand of sunflowers (also popular with the bees). We hope we have lots of "guests" check in. Make sure you put it where it can be easily observed, Ours is beautiful in our garden and we enjoy a view of it from our home's large picture window.
This would be a great project to do with kids. We plan to make a second one when we have grandchildren visiting this summer. That way they can help with the building and observe the one we already have in the garden. We hope it will be buzzing with activity. And maybe they will want to have their parents help them make one at home.
Photos by Gail Blain Peterson
Gail Blain Peterson is owner and chief soap maker at Kansas Prairie Soap. She garden and develops recipes on her rural Midwest property. Connect with Gail at Kansas Prairie Soap, on Facebook and Instagram.
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