What is a bee home?
To start, this home is not for honey bees! There are about 20,000 species of bees in the world, and only 8 are honey bees. The vast majority of bee species live alone in holes in the ground or in wood, reeds and other structures.
We often refer to bees that live alone as SOLITARY BEES. We also use the term NATIVE BEES when the species is commonly found in a given area, though not all native bees are solitary, and not all solitary bees are native to an area! We may also use the term WILD BEES to distinguish them from domesticated honey bees, which do not occur naturally in North America.
Since we often clear much of the old wood and other natural habitat near where we live, bee homes help ensure that these bees have the nesting sites they need to raise their young.
Do these actually work?
They do! There are a number of factors that can increase your odds of success, however.
The first is the area where you live. If you're somewhere with very few flowering plants, or your yard is an oasis of flowers while most of your neighbours have perfectly green lawns, that might be something you need to address first. Bees need food, after all!
Next is placement - see the FAQ below on that. Often times if you're not getting occupants it can be as easy as moving the home somewhere else in your yard or changing the direction.
Lastly is the design of the home. Some other bee home makers use incorrectly sized nesting sites, or cheap materials that result in the mother bee turning down the location. That's not a problem with ours.
How do you clean the nesting blocks?
Cleaning out the blocks themselves is optional. If you would like to, it can be done by removing the top and using any appropriate tool to clean out the hole. To further ensure they are sanitized, you can bake them at 200°F for 2 hours.
If your nesting block attracted wasps, you should be aware that cleaning it may not be for the squeamish. You may find the remains of spiders or insects that the wasp left for its young, so be prepared for that!
While it's common to hear concerns about diseases spreading in bees because of blocks that have not been cleaned out, this is often only true of bee homes with a high density of nesting sites, and our experience suggests that this is not a problem for low-density nesting sites like ours.
How often do I need to maintain the home?
The Osmo products we use are not only friendly to the environment, they will never flake or peel and you won't need to sand before adding touch-up coats in the future. They are the best, easiest-to-maintain finishes we could find.
Every 3-5 years, we recommend cleaning the exterior of the home with Osmo Decking cleaner, adding a coat of Osmo that matches the original finish. It can be purchased Osmo's online store if you do not have a local retailer.
Contact us if you'd need any guidance on how to do this.
What do I need to do at the start and end of the season?
The Hands-Off Approach
If you're the kind of person that just wants to put up the bee home and forget about it, we have good news for you: you can! Bees and wasps will gradually fill up the holes over the summer months, and they can be left outside all winter and their offspring will emerge in the spring. Some wasp and leaf-cutter bee nests may even emerge within the same summer.
After they leave the blocks, other bees and wasps will come along and reuse those nesting sites. Some species even seem to prefer this to clean, unused nesting locations. Since there are only a small number of blocks in our homes, and they are designed to prevent the most common parasites from accessing them, there is little concern over disease spreading between nesting-block occupants.
The Hands-On Approach
If you're the kind of person that would like to be hands on with your bee home, you can do that as well! Throughout the summer, as the nesting blocks fill up, you can set them aside outside or in a shed or garage - anywhere that is dry and protected.
They can stay in the same location over the winter, as long as it stays fairly dry. (Snow is OK, but you don't want them to get submerged in a puddle.) It's also important that the area isn't heated: our native bees and wasps are adapted to our cold winters, and they need to experience a few months of cold in order to emerge properly in spring!
During this time, you can replace the used nesting blocks with new ones to ensure there are always available nesting sites.
At the start of the season, place all of the nesting blocks outside so that the young bees can leave when the time is right. Note that some bees may stay dormant for a full year before coming out, however, so you may find that some of your nesting blocks remain sealed even late into the summer. This is normal, and you should keep these blocks until the following year.
Where do I place the home?
Generally, you want your bee home to be placed in a location that gets some sunlight, with the nesting block openings facing (roughly) south so that they are exposed to the sun for most of the day. The exception to this is if you live in a very hot climate, where bees will tend to look for more shady areas. If you aren't having success in one location, try another!
If possible, place the bee home near a patch of flowers or a flowering tree or shrub so the bees won't need to travel far to find pollen and nectar.
Placing the home on existing trees or wooden structures can also be helpful, as bees will often look in these locations for holes to nest in. However, if that's not an option, the home can also be placed on its own, as a free-standing pole, though we've had mixed results with this approach in practice.
The bee home comes with a mount for placing it on an existing structure, and a stand-alone post can be ordered separately.
Can I open the nesting blocks?
If you're using our nesting blocks with viewing windows, the short answer is yes! Just make sure the mother bee isn't home before you open the top up.
If instead you have our regular nesting blocks, there's a bit more nuance:
First, if your bee is a leaf cutter bee, then opening the nesting block while the nest is under construction is most likely safe. You will simply see each cell wrapped in pieces of leaf.
If, however, you have mason bees, this could potentially be destructive. Until the egg has had some time to develop, it is very fragile, and opening it may result in a mud wall collapsing and destroying it. Once it has developed for a number of weeks, this concern is reduced.
If you decide to leave your blocks in the home year round, we do not recommend opening it after the mother bee has sealed off the front, as this could allow parasites in. However, if you can set it aside somewhere safe, you can open it after a few weeks with low risk.
In general, be very careful when viewing a nest while it is being constructed. We want the bees to be safe and make it to adulthood, after all!
How do you prevent mold from forming in the blocks?
First, we provide an overhang with our homes which should prevent the majority of rain from entering the front of the nesting blocks.
Second, we use white oak to make the blocks themselves, which unlike a material like plastic, can breathe and does not trap moisture. While some dirt may collect on or between the blocks, they will generally remain well insulated from the weather once the mother bees completes them and seals the front.
Why are there different hole sizes in the blocks?
The range of block sizes we have appeal to different species, and even to individual preferences within a species. By providing a range of hole sizes in 1/16" increments, it helps ensure that each bee will find a size of hole suitable for raising her young.
Will this attract wasps or do I need to worry about a big nest forming?
If by wasps you mean "yellow jackets" or other social species that live in large nests, then no, you don't have to worry about that. These homes are designed for solitary creatures and won't attract social bees or wasps.
There are, however, more species of wasps than there are bees, and many of them live solitary lives as well. Our smallest nesting blocks are known to attract aphid wasps, which are tiny wasps that primarily eat aphids. They'll never both you at your BBQ, though.
Will this help to keep carpenter bees from making holes in my deck?
Sorry, we can't help you there. Some bees look for existing holes while others make there own. Our homes are designed for those looking for existing holes, and won't dissuade a carpenter bee from making a hole where it wants to.
What can I expect to see?
If we are being honest, we should really call these “Hymenoptera homes” because you can expect to see both bees and wasps living here. But that's a mouthful, so we just call them bee homes. Bees are really just vegetarian wasps, after all!
Just as there are solitary bees, there are solitary wasps, and they often live in similar structures. They're also similarly non-aggressive, so don't worry about a giant yellow-jacket nest appearing.
In general, you can expect to see a mix of species, with the most common being mason and leaf-cutter bees. These bees will tend to live in the nesting blocks that have medium-sized and larger holes, and they make the walls of their nests out of bits of mud, leaves or even tree resin. You will see them coming and going as they build their nests one cell at a time.
You're only likely to see the female bees and wasps, since males don't help out with nest construction or getting food for the offspring.
The nesting blocks with small ⅛” holes will mainly attract yellow-faced bees or aphid wasps. These (very tiny!) wasps will help to keep pests off plants nearby.
When a bee or wasp has finished their nest, they will seal up the opening. At this point, you can replace that finished block with an empty one, and set the completed one aside. There are more details on what to do with these blocks later in this guide.
Where do I get the bees?
Since most wild bees are native to certain geographies and don't lend themselves to being kept in captivity, we are not in the business of selling specific bee species. Shipping cocoons also risks spreading diseases between geographies and so this is not something we plan to do either.
The best way to attract more bees is to grow flowering plants that are native to your area, and to support others that are looking to do the same in public spaces. Without the right habitat to support them, even the nicest bee homes will not attract residents.
Are wild bees aggressive?
No! Unlike honey bees that live in large hives, solitary bees do not aggressively guard where they live and will only sting if handled. In fact, Ryan - one of the founders of Scopa - is deathly allergic to bees, but doesn't have any concern about being around these nesting blocks!
That being said, be safe and don't try to catch them!
What's the best resource to learn more about wild bees?
One of the best books on the topic that covers North American bees is The Bees in Your Backyard. It allows you to both get a high-level overview or go deep into different groups of bees. Highly recommended!
Why are these made of white oak?
Many bee homes are made from pine. Untreated, it will entirely rot within a few years, and in general is not a wood species that gives a nice finish.
Others choose to use red cedar. While it is rot resistant, it is a softwood that is easily damaged and can look very weathered in a short time.
White oak, by comparison, is the longest lasting domestic hardwood for outdoor usage. It's an extremely dense hardwood often used for ship building, and gives a beautiful finish when treated. It's not easy to work with and it's certainly not cheap, but we think it's worth it.
Finally, it has a very low scent, making it less likely to be offensive to bees living in it.
What type of wood glue do you use?
We use only Titebond III, a waterproof wood glue designed for exterior use.
Are the nesting blocks themselves treated with anything?
No, the nesting blocks are left as untreated white oak.
Even though our finishes are safe enough to eat, we don't want to take any chances. This helps ensure that there is no coating that might pose a problem when in extended contact with bees and their young.
Why is the thread used to mount the house made directly in the wood?
Counterintuitively, by creating the thread in the wood itself instead of using a metal insert, it actually makes this connection stronger and more durable.
While a metal insert in wood may be stronger between the thread and the bolt, between the insert and the wood it is sitting in, it is less strong, and would strip more easily than a directly tapped thread if a significant amount of weight was put on it.
Where and how are these made?
All of our bee homes are hand made in a small woodshop near downtown in Ottawa, Canada.
Even though we don't do custom work (often, at least), we hire experienced craftspeople as their knowledge and skills are required to produced a consistent, high quality product from wood as difficult to work with as white oak.
We do everything we can to source all of our materials and equipment from local stores so that as much money stays in our community as possible.
Where do you ship?
Since our bee homes are made from material domestic to Canada and the United States, and are primarily aimed at species of bees and wasps in those geographies, we prefer to ship within North America.
However, people have gifted our products to others outside of these borders and we're eager to get feedback on how they work elsewhere. If you're interested in having us ship to a different location, reach out to us and we'll see what we can do.
What shipping options do you offer?
We currently offer multiple shipping options through UPS, FedEx and Canada Post, and are actively exploring other options to reduce the shipping time and cost.
How quickly do you ship?
It really depends on whether we have inventory in the colour you're looking for. While we're working hard to build up inventory, we've been having a hard time keeping stock and so this can vary.
We ship as soon as the finish is dried and it's safe to box them up. If you need something rushed, send us a note and we'll do our best to prioritize your order.