Building an Insect Hotel


An insect hotel is an ideal way to attract beneficial insects to your garden. A few days ago, we decided to build our own insect hotel so the interns set off around the farm to find materials like hollow sticks, pipes, rocks, and anything that looked like it could be used to house insects.


We found an old dresser out in the wood shed and decided to use it as the main base for our insect hotel because of the conveniently located shelves where we could place our assortment of sticks, rocks, and pipes. To make a sturdier back for the dresser, we cut some pieces of oddly-shaped plywood into nearly identical pieces and screwed them in.

Next, we drilled holes in some of the larger pieces of wood that we found to create more places for the insects to live.

Then we moved the hotel into the back of the garden and placed the different objects onto the shelves and the ground nearby for particularly large sticks and other objects that would not fit in the rest of the dresser. The insect hotel is open for business!


Read more about insect hotels and get some great ideas for building your own here.

Workshop: Beneficial Bugs and Insect Hotels

Bug hotel in Oakham, UK. Although often called a hotel, some bees will live in a nest for up to nine months as they develop from egg, through the larval stage, into adulthood. Photo by Anne Crasey. www.flickr.com


When: 3-5 p.m. Thursday, June 13
Where: Better Farm
Cost: Suggested $10 donation
Course Description: Tidy gardens, chemically fertilized lawns, and a lack of dead wood in suburban/urban areas mean less and less habitat for wild bees, spiders, and ladybugs. You can combat this issue by creating an "insect hotel" to attract beneficial insects (read: pollinators and pest controllers) to your yard and garden. Learn how construct an insect hotel utilizing items you can find around your house and in your yard. Students will learn all of the above, and then try their hands at actual construction of an insect hotel. Those attending are encouraged to bring items from home for upcycling, including but not limited to discarded pvc pipe pieces, sticks, logs, bricks, flower pots (broken or unbroken), or anything else of your choosing. There will also be items available for use at Better Farm.
Instructor: Nicole Caldwell

To reserve your spot, please e-mail info@betterfarm.org, or call (315) 482-2536. To see our full workshop schedule, please visit www.betterfarm.org/upcoming-workshops.
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Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Spotlight On: Insect Hotels


insect habitat
From Inspiration Green:

Tidy gardens, chemically fertilized lawns, and a lack of dead wood in suburban/urban areas mean less and less habitat for wild bees, spiders, and ladybugs. You can combat this issue by creating an "insect hotel" to attract beneficial insects
(read: pollinators and pest controllers) to your yard and garden. Read on for some beautiful ideas!

Honey bees represent only a small fraction of the approximately 20,000 known species of bees. No honey bees existed in the Americas before their introduction by Europeans. An insect hotel will attract these and many other kinds of bees, as well as hundreds of other beneficial insects.
 

Insect hotels are also known as:
Bug condos, bug hotels, insect habitats, wildlife stacks, insect boxes, insect houses, insect walls, wild bee walls, insect accommodation, wild bee houses, solitary bee walls or wild bienenhaus.

Who lives in Insect Hotels:
Wasps (cuckoo wasps, parasitic wasps, and many other kinds), dragonflies, beetles, lacewings, ladybirds. moths, spiders, frogs, newts, hedgehogs, and bees (leafcutter bees, masked bees, mason bees, digger bees, bumblebees, and hundreds more).




Another thing about bees:
Bumblebees nest in hollow trees and in rodent burrows. They are among the first bees to emerge in the spring and the last to disappear in fall. They are superb pollinators of tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, clover, and more. Bumblebees can “buzz pollinate” by hanging on a flower and vibrating with their flight muscles to release pollen. Mason and Leafcutter Bees select existing hollow stems and bored holes in which to build their multiple nest chambers. They carry pollen underneath their bodies rather than on their legs like most bees. Mason bees are first-class pollinators of many fruit crops, toiling long hours and in inclement weather. Squash and Gourd Bees help pollinate up to eighty percent of squash, pumpkins, and melons. They are ground nesters, so it is important to leave some open dirt for the these very important bees as well.


The Photos
Here are some photos of particularly amazing insect hotel designs. The basic execution of the idea can be facilitated using scraps and things you have lying around your garden shed, garage, or yard. Check these out:
  
insect hotel

A wildlife stack can harbor numerous beneficial insects and amphibians. www.metrofieldguide.com

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Wildlife stack. Some creatures like it damp, others (like bees) dry. Ladybugs hibernate during winter in piles of dry twigs and leaves, which you can provide in your insect hotel. Might be better to think of it as habitat or a condo, as you really want long term residents. Photo by Sarah Barker at the Shrewsbury flower show.

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Bug hotel in Oakham, UK. Although often called a hotel, some bees will live in a nest for up to nine months as they develop from egg, through the larval stage, into adulthood. Photo by Anne Crasey. www.flickr.com
insect habitat

Solitary bees like sun. The ideal location for an insect hotel is in full sun and protected from the weather. This will ensure that the heat required for the brood is present, and wind or rain will not destroy their nest. Provide that, and the flowers, and they will come. www.sav-überlingen.de

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Insect hotel in Hamburg, Germany. Wild bee houses have been popular in Europe for many years. insektenhotel24.de


insect habitat

Insect hotel at the Heimanshof, North Holland.
Many solitary bees are very small and you may not have realised they are bees. More species of bees live alone, than in hives. Wild bees are considered to be as important to the food chain as bumblebees and honeybees. Honey bees are not native to the Americas (see below). Photo by Bob Daamen www.flickr.com.


insect habitat

Insect home or bug bank, on the grounds of Oxburgh Hall in North Norfolk. Because solitary bees have no hive to defend, they are not aggressive, they rarely, if ever, sting. Photo by Mabvith flickr.com.

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Insect hotel in Helmsley, UK. Hotels should be relatively close to flowering herbs, wild flowers and native shrubs and trees to cover the food needs of the insects. Photo by Munki Munki, www.flickr.com.
solitary bee cells


Solitary bees are different from social bees (such as honey bees) in that every female is fertile and makes individual nest cells for her offspring. Some native bees are ground nesters but more than 30% are wood nesters. The female wood nester will look for pre-existing cavities such as hollow stems or holes in wood that are just the right size to use as a nest.

The female typically creates a series of compartments (cells) and within each cell she will lay an egg on top of its future food source. The female bee will make numerous foraging trips to flowers collecting pollen and nectar that she will pack into each cell. It is on these trips that the female wild bee acts as a pollinator for plants and food crops. It can take anywhere from 20 to 30 trips to fill each cell with food. When she is satisfied with the amount of food, she lays an egg, compartmentalizes the cell, and moves on to creating the next cell. When she feels the chamber is complete, she seals off the end, and moves on to filling a new chamber. The last cells (those closer to the opening) contain eggs that will become males, as males hatch before females. Although each species is different, mason bee females live for about a month, and can build a cell nest for about two eggs every day. The larva hatches from the egg after a week or more and begins to eat the provided pollen and nectar. After the food has been eaten, the larva spins a cocoon and pupates within the cell. By the end of summer or early fall, the bee transforms but remains in the cocoon as an adult throughout the winter. In spring, the males begin to emerge by chewing their way out. The females, which are almost always in the deeper cells of the tunnel, emerge a week or two later.

While solitary females each make individual nests, some species prefer to make nests near others of the same species, giving the appearance to the casual observer that they are social. Nest photo by Mike N. of Vancouver, BC.

insect habitat

Insect hotel in Hoofddorf, Holland. Drilled 4 x 4s, logs, twigs and sticks. There are many different species of solitary bee, all are excellent pollinators. Photo by Bob Daamen, www.flickr.com



insect hotel

Insect hotel in St. Poelten Landesmuseum, Austria. That shutter will keep the birds out. Photo by Klasse im Garten, flickr.com.

insect habitat

Bug stack. Keep an eye on activity as some ants will eat bee larvae.

insect hotel

Insect Hotel.

bug hotel

Bug Mansion.
Ladybugs are always looking for places to hide and escape from the weather. By the Harrogate District Biodiversity Action Group.

insect habitat

Wildlife stack by Dawn Isaacs. How-to: www.guardian.co.uk

insect hotel

Insect Condo in Scotland.
Photo by Sheila, flickr.com

insect habitat

Wild Bee Hotel in Austria.

insect hotel

Bee Condo.
Photo by Sissi de Kroon, flickr.com

insect hotel

Insect Hotel in a private garden in Austria.

insect hotel

Insect Hotel, Ebersberger Forest, Bavaria
Photo by Terry Cooke, flickr.com.

insect hotel

Insect Hotel (Zen-like)

bug hotel

Place cut bamboo in metal pipes.
Photo by Bob Daamen. www.flickr.com

bug hotel

Wire screening keeps the small stuff in place and protects against birds.
Photo by Joeke Pieters, flickr.com


bug habitat

Wild bee house in the Black Forest, Germany. Photo by Michael Bohnert. www.flickr.com

insect hotel

A fun learning project for kids.

insect habitat

Insect hotel in the Netherlands, close-up.
flickr.com

insect hotel

An 'Insect hotel' at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey ©RLLord,


bug habitat

Insect Habitat assembled from foraged organic materials and reclaimed scrap, a habitat-in-waiting for bees and other native creatures. By Kevin Smith and Lisa Lee Benjamin. floragrubb.com


bug hotel

Insect Habitat at The Garden Tulln, Austria.
www.flickr.com



insect hotel


Insect Hotel in Germany.
www.wildbienen.de


bug hotel

Bug hotel by Lisa and Andrew Roberts (Living Willow Wales) at Ysgol Pontrhydfendigaid. andrewroberts.net



insect habitat

Bug hotel created by kids at the RHS Flower Show, Tatton Park. flickr.com
 

How To:

(A Must Read: Our Polinators Need a Home!)
For a simple hotel, drill holes 1/4" to 3/8" in the ends of logs, or cut some bamboo sticks of equal length, and stuff in a wooden box. Layer old pallets. Logs, drift wood, cut bamboo, straw, dry reeds, roofing tiles, cob. Do not use softwood for bees, as the drilled holes might fill with resin and suffocate the bees! Make sure all wood is free of chemical preservatives.


Further Reading:
insect hotel

Lots more inspiration here: flickr.com/groups/insecthotels
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Mural-Building

Decades ago, a guy who went by the nickname "Poppy" painted a small mural of Pan on a wall of Better Farm's dining alcove. Poppy—or possibly someone else—then nailed a homemade frame onto the wall over the painting.

In Greek mythology, Pan is the god of the wild, shepherds and flocks, nature, of mountain wilds, hunting and rustic music, and companion of the nymphs. And since sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, he's been keeping a trained on eye all the goings-on at Better Farm.

I've long wanted to invite visiting artists to add their own mini-murals to the wall, but got so caught up in large-scale projects (like a mural in a bedroom upstairs, another one in the birdhouse, and an almost-lifelike wooden family portrait-turned-roadside attraction), the last four years haven't seen any add-ons to the Wall of Pan in the kitchen. 'Til now, of course.

Last month's intern Zoya Kaufmann has a big-time passion for art and, well, bugs. So when she was invited to make a small mural of her choosing alongside Pan, she couldn't resist. Inspiration drew on her insect intrigue, combined with an inclination to paint something mimicking the mood of the Pan portrait.

Zoya explained, the Pan mural is presenting viewers with an unusual vantage point of something we rarely pause to look at (or even begin to imagine). Running with this idea, she painted another such creature (albeit literal, not mythic): the western conifer seed bug.

The western conifer seed bug, Leptoglossus occidentalis, is a species of true bug (Heteroptera) in the family Coreidae. It was originally native to the warm-temperate western USA (California, Oregon and Nevada) but has in recent times expanded its range and become an invasive species in parts of Europe. This species is sometimes colloquially called "the leaf-footed bug", and is sometimes mistakenly identified as a stink bug due to the unpleasant aroma it emits when disturbed. In its native range the western conifer seed bug feeds on the sap of developing conifer cones throughout its life, and its sap-sucking causes the developing seeds to wither and misdevelop. Here's a photo of what a western conifer seed bug looks like:

And here's Zoya's painting from beginning to end, bringing this unusual sight directly into the foreground for your viewing pleasure:

 

For more information about Better Farm's sustainability program, click here.

DIY Mosquito Control (and Residual Chicken Feed)


We know, we know. It's a little early to be thinking of mosquito season, right? But if you get this  mosquito-catching system organized before the snow thaws, you'll be ready to harvest some great treats for your chickens (or frogs) the second the skeeters wake up. Watch the video above for a great design plan (we like the solar option best) that will allow you to catch thousands and thousands of would-be pests.
1 Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

How to Make Your Own DIY Mosquito Repellent Device

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By Emily Stears, from Unplggd.com

Summer may be almost over (gasp!), but it's never too late—or early—to work on your anti-mosquito strategy. Courtesy of Uplggd.com, here’s a creative, eco-friendly, non-toxic way to keep your home mosquito free! It also doubles up as a pleasant fragrance while keeping those bloodsuckers away...

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Instructions

You need never buy refills for your plug-in mosquito killer again, nor worry about what toxins and chemicals are being expelled into the air by sprays or smoke coils.

Tried and tested...the peel of an orange or tangerine, cut into the shape of the refill, does a perfect job as an insect repellent (orange peel extract is used in spray solutions). Orange oil is pretty fragrant, as anyone who stands in the same room when someone is peeling citrus may notice. Just place the peel in the slot, plug in the mosquito killer and enjoy a peaceful sleep guarded by a non-chemical solution! 

What You'll Need
a plug-in mosquito killer device
an orange

a knife
a used refill to use as a template

How to Do It
  • The first thing you'll do is peel the orange. Try avoid getting too much of the white part. Set aside flesh (or just eat it), as you'll be using the peel.
  • Cut the peel into a rectangle to fit the plug-in device, or, if you’re a perfectionist, use the old refill as a template to cut around.
  • Place your refill-sized piece of orange peel into the slot of the plug-in device and plug it in.
  • Enjoy a peaceful sleep.

As far as I'm concerned, Better Farm is the perfect testing ground for all mosquito-deterrant-related-things. Stay tuned for results!

Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.

Best Mosquito Killer on the Block

Black and Yellow Argiope, photo/Nicole Caldwell
There's any number of ways to eradicate pests, fertilize your plants, or prevent bug bites. Unfortunately, most of these options include harmful chemicals that are about as far away as you can get from keeping yourself safe and healthy. The practice of Permaculture, on the other hand, models human settlements and agricultural systems on relationships found in natural ecologies.

Permaculture methods are near and dear to our hearts at Better Farm; where we do all we can to encourage natural systems to do most of our dirty work (mulch gardening, companion planting, clothesline drying, rainwater harvesting, and so on. We're even looking into starting up a small beekeeping station near the garden to encourage bumble bees to pull up a chair and stay a while.

So my discovery last week of an ENORMOUS Black and Yellow Argiope taking up residence on Better Farm's front deck (complete with Fort Knox-esque webbery) led me to inquire a little bit about what kind of magical creature this could be—and what benefits it could be providing for the people here.  A little research by Better Farmer Tyler Howe led us to the following information:

The Black and Yellow Argiope is a common orb web spider. Orb web means it spins a web like a circle. Female spiders are much larger than males, growing almost an inch and a half long (editor's note—the spider on our front deck looks way bigger than 1.5 inches!!). Males grow about 3/4 inch long. Both spiders have a cephalothorax (small front body section) with silver hairs on it. The abdomen (large back section) is egg-shaped with black and yellow coloring. Legs of these spiders are black with red or yellow bands. Each leg has three claws on the end. Black and Yellow Argiopes live in fields and gardens. They can be found on shrubs, tall plants, and flowers. The web of this spider spirals out from the center and can be two feet across. The female builds the large web, and a male will build a smaller web on the outer part of her web. The male's web is a thick zig-zag of white silk.

Adorable. But here's the best part:


Black and Yellow Garden Spiders are harmless to humans. Because they are large, many people fear them; however, not only are they harmless, but they do a lot of good. These spiders eat large amounts of insect pests, such as flies, mosquitoes, and aphids.

Say bye bye bug zapper! Ditch the deet! Off the Off! Okay, okay. It's not like our own little Charlotte is going to remove our need to protect ourselves from the dreaded black flies, mosquitoes, or deer flies. But having friends like her (and our darling Better Farm dragonflies) does make a difference. Just another reason to keep the toxins away from your shrubs and gardens. Spiders like this should have a safe place to live so they can do what they do and, in doing so, help protect you from bug bites.
Comment

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.