I’m not a proponent of feeding wildlife, although I admit to placing two deep-dish plates filled with water outside our kitchen as bathing quarters and drinking stations for birds and squirrels. Heck, everyone gets a little thirsty now and then, and who doesn’t love a good bath? When my editor suggested writing about insect houses, I hesitated at first, thinking of man’s tendency to mess with nature, often with negative consequences. But then I thought about my fabricated watering holes and my joy at watching robins splashing and chickadees and chipmunks sitting on the edge of the plates, dipping their mouths into the water. What harm could there be?
The reasoning behind building bug hotels, or insect condos, is to attract insects and bugs — natural food sources for birds and small animals — and bees, natural pollinators. There are some rules to follow, of course, but overall the structure is easy to build. Start with wood planks and bricks or concrete blocks for the outside structure, and keep adding stories (make sure all wood is chemical-free). On each level, stuff material like grass, dry leaf litter, twigs, pinecones, or small logs into individual squares. The structure will look like a big tic-tac-toe box.
Position the structure in semi-shade next to a bush or under a tree, as many insects like cool, damp conditions. Bees prefer warmth, however, so for them add hollow bamboo canes in a frame or in a hollow clay pipe or drain pipe, or drill tiny holes in the ends of small logs, and place in the sunnier region of the structure. A friend of mine in Truckee just bought a bee residence online for mason bees (aka orchard bees) and installed it on the side of her greenhouse facing south next to their apple trees. Mason bees are non-stinging bees known to be extremely productive pollinators. The female bees fill the bamboo tubes with their eggs, nectar, and pollen for their young to eat, and then they seal the ends with mud. If you don’t want to make your own bee house, you can purchase one from gardeners.com or Amazon for $12 to $70.
For other insects, such as the delicate lime-green, translucent-winged lacewings, roll up a piece of corrugated cardboard and cover it with a waterproof cloth, or place it in an old 2-liter plastic water or soda bottle. To attract beetles, put leaves, stones, sticks, and small logs at the base of the structure. Butterflies will congregate if you add wildflowers that cover the top and hang over the sides of the insect condo. You can also extend your nature sanctuary by including a small pond for frogs.
However you build your insect hotel, you are sure to be the buzz of your neighborhood.
~ Have you built an insect hotel? Let us know at moonshineink.com.