Bee hotels need not be expensive or sophisticated to be a success. Many of the shop-bought bee hotels look pretty, come with a rather expensive price tag but are often not taken to by the bees. This is because they are made from poor materials and/or the nesting tubes are too short to attract nesting bees.
We have bought and successfully used bee hotels from George Pilkington's Nurturing Nature website. These are made in the UK and are extremely well designed with an observation panel in the side allowing you to view the growing baby bees without disturbing them.
Solitary Mason bees and Leafcutter bees taking up residence
The modular design allows the central section to be cleaned out and reused every year and you can even harvest and store the cocoons in the base of the hotel. There are specially designed modules for both Spring and Summer solitary bee species.
A Nurturing Nature Bee Hotel showing some residents in place
These solitary Bee hotels are not cheap, but they are tried and tested with many different solitary bee species across the UK. Designed to be re-used year after year, these bee hotels are a great addition to any garden and are the perfect purchase for anyone interested in the natural world.
Making your own Bee Hotel
Alternatively, you can easily make your own bee hotel by taking a block of wood and drilling holes into it with an electric drill. Alternatively, you can create a box (like a bird box but with the front missing) and stuff it full of lengths of hollow bamboo canes or plant stems collected from your garden. Hogweed, Cow Parsley, Sunflower, Rhubarb, Sedum. Elder, Teasel, reed stems and Clary sage all work well. You could also use bramble stems though they are covered in thorns and difficult to handle. Cut sections of stem at the node where a leaf would have emerged. This will result in a long hollow tube with an open end and at the other side a solid end/partitioning wall. Place them into your box with the open ends of the tubes facing out into the open. Use stems or drill holes between 4 and 11mm across and for best results a minimum of 9-10 inches in length. Including holes as small as 4mm across will let some very small species of bee use the bee hotel but make most of the holes between 7-11mm across as this caters for mason and leafcutter bees which are the species you're most likely to attract.
A large bee hotel made from drilled logs and hollow plant stems
Erect your bee hotel on a linear surface like a fence or wall, ideally south facing a few feet off the ground and clear of overhanging vegetation to provide the bees with a clear flight path in and out of the box.
Don't make the bee hotel too large as putting too many solitary bees together in a small space attracts potential pests and parasites. You should also remove and replace any unused stems in the Autumn as solitary bees typically don't reuse old nests and it helps reduce any impacts of disease or fungal infections etc.