The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Firewood bee nest block

Drill bits for making bee nests

Log too big for stoveIf you guessed that Mark's mystery object was a native bee nest, you were right!  You'll read more about the theory behind creating nests for native pollinators on Thursday, but I can't wait to post about my experiments.

Version 1.0 uses a piece of firewood that was too gnarly for Mark to split.  I drilled one face with holes sized 1/8, 5/32, 3/16, and 5/16 inches in diameter --- the goal is to use a variety of sizes between 3/32 and 5/8 inches so that we'll attract several different bee species.

Next, I wanted to blacken the surface of the wooden nest block since a dark color is supposed to attract bees.  You can use spray paint, but I didn't have any on hand, so I tried various methods to char the surface.  Sticking the block of firewood in the stove didn't work --- not only Charring bee nestdidn't the log fit, the flames didn't want to burn the side I was focusing on. 

It was much more effective to scoop some of the hot coals out into a galvanized tub and light a bit of junk mail so that the flames licked the face of the log.  Those of you who like gadgets will probably have even better luck using a propane torch.

Blackened wood

The end result was lightly blackened wood surrounding the holes.

Mounting bee nestFinally, I got Mark to mount my bee nest on the east side of one of our porch posts.  In a perfect world, nests get early morning sun to help the bees warm up enough to fly right after dawn, then the burrows are shaded from the full summer heat later in the day.  I also wanted to make sure that my bee nest was somewhere we'll walk by regularly so that I'll notice if it's being used.  Hopefully this spot will do the job.

After reading further, though, I discovered one flaw in my design.  Nest blocks with lots of holes like this one can turn into breeding grounds for bee diseases and pests, so you need to go through a complex management scheme to clean the nests and/or phase them out of production after a year or two.  Stay tuned for versions 2.0 and 3.0, which deal with the pest problem in a simpler manner.

Our chicken waterer makes care of your backyard flock easy by providing clean, POOP-free water.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Good idea about using different sized holes. I plan on putting a couple of block in the yard, but never really thought about different sizes attracting different species.
Comment by Fritz Tue Dec 27 11:00:16 2011
I can't really take credit for the idea of using a variety of sizes --- it was in Attracting Native Pollinators. But I agree --- it's a great idea to hedge our bets!
Comment by anna Tue Dec 27 12:45:31 2011
There's always a trade-off involved huh? If you build the nesting blocks you invite more pests, but if you encourage native habitat next to your gardens you attract a different set of pests. I'd think that replacing the bee nests every once in a while would seem to attract fewer and more manageable pests than leaving out more native habitat close to your garden beds.
Comment by Cameron Sat Dec 31 17:50:26 2011
I think the trouble with nest blocks from a pest point of view is how close the bees nest to each other. If they're scattered around your garden, each nesting with only a couple of other bees, pests don't have a chance to spread and reproduce so quickly. But that's all theoretical...
Comment by anna Sat Dec 31 18:34:23 2011

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