‘Bee hotels’ give solitary pollinators rooms of their own

Original article from Edmonton Journal

In an effort to boost the city’s declining wild bee population, the Edmonton and Area Land Trust has installed its first “bee hotel.”

By Madeleine Cummings

CBC News

July 21, 2015.


EDMONTON – In an effort to boost the city’s declining wild bee population, the Edmonton and Area Land Trust has installed its first “bee hotel.”

The “hotel,” which was attached Monday to a tree on the Edmonton Community Foundation’s downtown grounds, is made of wood and hollow bamboo stems. It has about 200 cylindrical holes, where solitary bees can lay eggs.

Unlike honey bees, which live communally in hives, solitary bees live alone, but still need safe spots to stash their eggs. Normally, bees find sheltered nooks and crannies in trees or underground, but these have become scarce in Edmonton and other cities across the country.

Climate change, urban development and pesticides have all hurt local wild bee populations, which is worrying because so much of the food we eat depends upon bee pollination.

Rebecca Ellis, the land trust’s project co-ordinator, said the hotel is designed to inspire volunteers, youth groups and the public to build their own bee hotels. The organization is currently experimenting with different hotel types and plans to involve more people in hotel-building initiatives in the coming months. Ellis is currently at work on one for her own backyard.

Since solitary bees don’t sting or swarm, “the hotels are perfectly safe to have in a backyard with kids,” she said.

Fairmont Hotels recently launched its own bee hotel program, through a collaboration with Burt’s Bees, TO Building + Architecture, and Pollinator Partnership Canada. The hotel chain now has more than 20 bee hotels in hotels across the country.

The Fairmont Hotel Macdonald’s bee hotel opened in mid-May. Hotel guests — of the human variety — are welcome to visit it, though assistant chief engineer Dave McNalty warned the rooms might take some time to be filled. Word of mouth, at least among wild bees, can be a little slow to spread.

“I’ve been keeping an eye on it,” he said. Once the holes are plugged with mud, he’ll know the bees have checked in.

Ideally, McNalty said, bees will spend the summer laying eggs on pillows of pollen and nectar inside the hotel. When the eggs hatch, the young will then feed on that mixture.

Bee hotels require a little maintenance in the spring and fall, but can be both cheap and easy to construct.

A small piece of scrap wood with several 20-centimetre drill holes will suffice, so long as it’s placed in a sunny spot near a water source.

Serge Jost, the Hotel Macdonald’s executive chef, has designed a special menu of dishes that each feature at least four pollination-dependent ingredients.

“We forget sometimes … how hard those little bees work for us,” he said.