Bee hotels and their bees in winter

The solitary bees that nest in a bee hotel spend most of their lives (the best part of a year) inside the bee hotel’s nesting tubes. This means the adult bees that emerge in spring are the bees that have survived the winter… and everything the winter weather has thrown at them inside their tube!

The basics

Bee activity around your hotel will come to an end by October giving you a window from October until February to do maintenance and make changes for overwintering your bee hotel. Any nesting tubes that are going to be occupied by eggs will be occupied by October and the bees developing from those eggs won’t emerge until March at the earliest. The general consensus is to change unused nesting tubes at least every other year… though be careful as some occupied tubes may not have a visible cap and so may be hard to spot.

What can I do to help the bees in my bee hotel overwinter?

The answer to this question will be different for everyone and depends on where your bee hotel currently is and where it could be stored. Every occupied nesting tube of your bee hotel is a goldmine of pollen and nectar and the baby bees will need a cool, consistent and stable temperature to survive the winter.

Overwintering your bee hotel

The decision to make changes to the location of your bee hotel for the winter is all about deciding what location will give the bees in your bee hotel the best chance of surviving. If you doubt your storage options for your bee hotel will provide the right environment or protection then you’re probably best to leave the bee hotel where it is.

The flowchart and guide below is designed to help you make your decision. If in doubt, leave it be.

Is your bee hotel winter-proof?

While the eggs are developing from eggs into adult bees they need a cool, dry and stable location. This may well describe the current location of your bee hotel in your garden. If it’s sheltered from rain and extreme temperatures and is securely attached then it may be best to leave your bee hotel where it is. Remove spiders and keep an eye on the condition of your bee hotel and it should be the ideal place for raising the net generation of solitary bees.

Do you have a cool and dry place to store it?

If you’re considering moving your bee hotel there are a number of things to consider. Your bee hotel will overwinter well in a cool, dry and stable location like a shed or garage, which will protect it from extreme temperatures, wind and rain. Avoid storing it in spaces that are centrally heated or glass structures like greenhouses, these will subject your bee hotel to excessive heat. Find a spot in a garage or shed that’s above the ground on a shelf or surface, out of direct sun.

Do you have a way to store it safe from pests?

As winter sources of food become more scarce the stash of pollen, nectar and baby bee in your bee hotel become all the more appealing. Garages and sheds can be havens form spiders and so storing your bee hotel or nesting tubes inside a box with breathing holes or a gorse bag can offer protection. Many UK supermarkets sell reusable mesh vegetable bags that are both breathable and protective; ideal for storing your bee hotel or nesting tubes securely.

Are you confident you’ll remember it in the spring?

When spring arrives it’s important to get your nesting tubes into a location where the bees can emerge and start work on planning for the next generation. Before you store your bee hotel or nesting tubes it’s well worth taking steps to ensure it’s not forgotten when it gets to March.

When March arrives reinstall your bee hotel in its garden spot and wait for your bees to start emerging; Red Mason Bees from March, Blue Mason Bees from April, Orange-Vented Mason Bees from May, Patchwork Leafcutter Bees from June.

The Bee Guardian Scheme from Mason Bee UK

Mason Bee UK runs a Bee Guardian scheme that can get you completely set up as a solitary bee keeper with a everything including cocoons with bees almost ready to emerge that arrive in the spring. If you have a great garden for a bee hotel and a curiosity to start keeping solitary bees, though you’re not confident about the over wintering bit then this could be for you. You’ll receive cocoons in March-April and at the end of the season you post your capped nesting tubes back to Mason Bee UK for them to do the overwintering. Discover more HERE