Sunday, March 17, 2013

Insect Hotel Construction Complete

Doing the final construction of the insect hotel was definitely the fun part.  Assembling all the parts, building boxes, drilling holes - all very tedious and time consuming.  Especially since I had a deadline to meet!  Bumble bee queens emerge in February and I ordered some Mason Bees by mail.


The first pieces to go in were the shelving units.  Once they were secure, it was just a matter of placing everything.  The big rounds were the first to go in.

Ed helped by building the gable.  He also did all the cedar shake siding and roofing.

The pots of coconut fiber were tucked in.

Hopefully something will find these irresistible.

While I was putting it together I was buzzed several times.  The mason bees went right to the bamboo pieces and started building their nests.  A couple of lady bugs inspected holes too.

Now that it is up I visit it nearly every day.  I have almost a dozen mud-plugged holes now.  Today I noticed that the wasps were in the yard - hopefully they'll find a home in here too.

I am having so much fun with this!  My heart just leaps every time I discover a new nest.  As the new bees hatch I hope they stick around and start a family of their own.  I plan on cleaning the bamboo pieces and the nest boxes I purchased (only one hole taken so far) to keep mites from killing my bees.  No one has moved into the bumblebee nest yet, but a hornet was buzzing around today.  Hopefully she/he will move on down the road - don't really want a hornets nest.  But, like all superintendents, sometimes you don't get to pick your tenants!




Sunday, March 10, 2013

Scavenger Hunt - Building an Insect Hotel

Building insect habitat turned into a big scavenger hunt.

My goal was to reproduce this hotel with materials from my yard.  http://www.terrevivante.org/237-construire-un-hotel-a-inscetes.htm

In addition to the bumble bee box and holes drilled in wood, I also needed some other tubular structures that bees might like to nest in.  Many designs use bamboo poles for this.  After a trip to Lowe's to supplement my existing inventory, I cut the poles into 5.5" lengths.  This corresponds to the width of the shelving I was using as part of the structure.


Since bees use mud to seal their nests, I purchased a kitty water and put it near the structure.  I filled the bowl with soil and made really nice mud.  The automatic waterer should keep it moist during our hot weather (as long as I keep the reservoir full!) Hopefully butterflies will use it for mud-puddling too.

The lacewing house became the biggest challenge.  Everything I could find said to use corrugated cardboard rolled into a cylinder.  Just a few years ago, this would not have been a problem.  Trouble is that cardboard has been completely replaced by bubble wrap.  Even my shipping department husband couldn't score me any type of cardboard that I could easily roll.

I decided to go ahead and try the bubble wrap.  I worry that it will not have the right air circulation, but it's worth the experiment.  I rolled a layer of newspaper with it to try to emulate cardboard - we'll see if that works.

I made a plywood box to hold the rolls.  The slits in front were made with a jig saw.

Many plans call for some sort of clay or mud bricks for solitary bees to nest in.  I have a bunch of 4" pots so I thought I could just fill them with mud and let them dry in the hot Texas sun.  However, one of my master gardener friends now sells coconut fiber bricks.  I bought two from him and used the coconut fiber to fill these square pots.  I cut the top rim off one pot so it will nest in the other.  The holes at the bottom make great entry points.



The shelf unit I used had two shelves that were just the right height to tuck these pots into.  I used some cedar shakes to make sure they were crammed in there tightly.
Now that I have all the nesting structures built - we can assemble it!  More on that in my next post.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

A Hole In My Head


I've been thinking about building a insect hotel for a couple of years now, all part of my quest to bring beneficial insects into the great St Augustine desert that is my neighborhood.  When I saw a picture of hôtels à abeilles I was even more determined to build one.

And then my trees started to die.  I had two Arizona Ash trees in my front yard and one of them was beginning to die - the one closest to the house, of course.  I had an arborist come out to take a look at it, and while it would probably take about three years to completely die, having that monster next to my house was worrisome.  Of course the problem was that if one tree came down, the other one would need to go also.  The canopies were interwoven and the remaining tree would be completely lopsided - posting yet another hazard.  So I made the decision to cut them down and plant new trees.

Now I'm not saying that I cut down my trees in order to have material for my bug hotel.  But I was delighted at the prospect that I wouldn't have to scrounge too far to find wood.

Be careful what you wish for.

I had the tree removal crew leave me some nice big branches and while supervising their work I also gathered up smaller twigs that I could use.  The first thing I had to do was cut the branches into 5.5" width rounds - that way they would fit into the shelving I was using for the framework.
I thought I'd just plop them on the table saw and square them up. Did I mention they were ash?  One of those really hard woods?  It took several passes and with ear splitting torque just for one end.  I made the rest of the cuts with the sawzall.  Took for frickin' ever.



Next up was to drill holes in all the pieces.  Since my drill bit was shorter than 5.5", I got to drill on both sides!  Oh, how I longed for my Dad's drill press.  It took me three days to finish the job.  And did I mention that the tree was ash?  What was I thinking?  Every hole was a huge effort because the wood was so hard - and green to boot.

Of course the idea for these pieces is to provide shelter for ladybugs, wasps, and possibly bees.  Most bees in Texas are ground dwellers and won't be too interested in these wooden homes.

If nothing else they are cool looking.

Did I mention they were ash?  I think I got carpal tunnel drilling those holes.  Not the smartest thing I've ever done, but hopefully worth it.