Unless you live under a rock, you’ve heard about the collapse of honey bee populations; one way you can supplement their essential work of pollination is to support native bees. Though native bees do not produce honey (colonists brought honeybees to America), they are excellent pollinators. If you have some basic woodworking skills and tools, you can build a bee house, where they can safely lay their eggs.

Of the native bees, native leafcutter bees and mason bees are the most amenable to bee houses and are good blueberry and cranberry pollinators, according to the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The Honeybee Conservancy describes these two solitary bees as gentle and genial. They are much less likely to sting than honeybees.

Normally, they burrow into hollow stems or small holes in logs or wood, lay their eggs, fortify them with pollen and then close up the holes with mud or leaves. The eggs hatch the following spring. Successful bee houses mimic those habitats and can be as easy and basic or as complex and artistic as your time and talents allow.

The Basic Model

• Use thoroughly dried lumber scraps. Avoid wood treated with preservatives.

• Drill holes in a zig-zag pattern about 5 inches deep. Do not drill through the full depth of the wood. Holes 9/64ths, 5/16ths or 7/16ths mimic the size of beetle holes, which bees often use to lay their eggs. Sand away any rough edges so as not to damage delicate bee wings.

• Top with a roof to keep rain from getting in the holes.

• Use metal perforated strapping or L brackets to firmly attach the bee house to a sturdy structure – such as an outbuilding or fence – 3 1/2 to 5 feet off the ground. Or mount the house on a board and then attach it. Be sure your bee house faces southeast as bees need the warmth of the sun to wake up and get to work.

 

The Shingle Cottage

This simple but cute design uses two wood blocks and wooden shingles.

 

 

The Upgrade

For a more decorative look, a structure is built to house a block of wood that can easily be replaced every year or two.

 

The Apartment Block

This model incorporates both tubes and wood blocks, which can be replaced when necessary. Tubes, which resemble hollow reeds, can be made of cardboard, paper, bamboo or hollow reeds and are especially enticing to leafcutter bees.

 

The Tubular

This very simple bee house holds three large cardboard tubes stuffed with smaller tubes, in which the bees can lay their eggs.

More keys to success

• Plant bee-friendly plants near your bee house.

• Keep a supply of mud close for the bees to use to plug up their holes.

• Like honeybees, native bees can be susceptible to pests, mites and pathogens. To help keep them healthy, replace the wood blocks at least every other year and the cardboard or paper tubes every year.

• Avoid using pesticides, which are harmful to all bee species.