My daughter Kate, a 7th grader in Middle School, was given an unexpected late science assignment - she was told that she needed to complete an 'eco-action project.' Grant you, this wasn't a surprise to me, as my current 8th grader Adam had the same last minute assignment last year. I am of two minds about these assignments. I think getting kids involved in ecological and environmental causes is great, and I always have a million ideas if the kids do not. However, I'm not a fan of these 'the school year's almost done, there's not much left to do, oh well, let's do a project' projects. It's busy work. Well-meaning busy work, but still. Anyway, last year Adam didn't have any ideas of his own so I pitched him a bat box, and he and Tom built a really cool one which has yet to be installed on a tall pole in our garden. (What good is an ecological project if it never gets put to use? I'm not sure.) Kate didn't have any ideas either, though many of the people in her class decided to have bake sales and raise money for a local children's hospital and she thought that sounded like an easy way out. I nixed it. Money for hospitals is great, but it's not what I call an eco-action project. So I suggested an insect hotel, something I've wanted on our property for years now.
A little background. We all know the plight of the European Honeybee and by now we are all taking steps (I hope!) to help them from disappearing altogether. But what is not so well-reported is that native bees and pollinating insects are also greatly in decline, for all the same reasons honeybees are. Lost of habitat is right up there as a cause, as are systemic pesticides, weakened immune systems, and a basic lack of food and water. Did you know we have about 1600 species of native bee in California alone? Many of us are familiar with bumblebees, but that is only one kind of bee among many.
If you're interested in California native bees, you can't do better than to peruse the website of the Urban Bee Lab at UC Berkeley. They are doing wonderful work, and they have lists of bees, ways to help them, which flowers to plant, etc. The researchers also give talks in various places; I've been to one at Pollinate Farm and Garden in Oakland, and it was a truly eye-opening lecture.
In our garden, as you know, I keep two pollinator gardens going year-round for insect forage. It's so fun to sit down in those gardens and watch who visits. I have a field guide for native bees that I bought from the Urban Bee Lab, but I often forget to look up the insects I saw. Suffice it to say that there are dozens of bees that visit the flowers. I also love visiting insects of any kind - spiders, butterflies, dragon - and damselflies, wasps (other than yellow-jackets!), flies, mantids, true bugs, ladybugs, etc. They all need habitat.
I also leave water out for insects. We have a bubbling fountain with rocks at the bottom, which is an ideal place for insects to drink. There are shallow dishes full of rocks and broken pottery scattered around the garden. Our watering system keeps them full of water. They tend to get dirty, choked with leaves and sometimes mud, but that makes them even more attractive to some insects such as butterflies.
And though we are addicted to wood chips and mulch here, I leave a portion of bare ground in various places in the yard. This is for ground-nesting bees, like bumbles.
But what we didn't have here is any place for the other dozens of bees or insects to nest - hollow logs or piles of moss, layers of bricks or rocks. (I do have paving stones for the lizards, as well as a brush pile - but some insects like stacks and crevices.)
Hence, the need for an insect hotel. Here's the one that Kate made.
I found the box on Amazon, as it seemed to too hard to construct something with a lot of little holes. For the fillings, Kate choose two kinds of moss, hollow bamboo (cut in to small sections), a cardboard box cut in to strips, some cut-up straw, some cut-up jute twine, and wood blocks that she drilled using Dad's drill press. This should provide nesting sources for many different kind of insects. We'll hang it up on the fence in one of our pollinator gardens, and will enjoy watching it to see who comes to stay.
If you google 'insect hotel,' you'll see lots of photos of very elaborate constructions which are really neat, but too big for our yard. Perhaps you'll be inspired to make your own insect hotel!