A Bumblebee Box, Bee Houses that work
Opinion is divided as to how effective bumblebee boxes are. Bombus are very fussy nesters and appear to show a distinct preference for sorting themselves out without bee houses, thank you very much. A lot seems to turn on your choice of nesting material – pick the right stuff and you’ll be rewarded with lots of yellow fuzzy, buzzy visitors. However, pick the wrong material and they’re likely to turn their little probosces up at it.
Second-hand mouse nesting (complete with droppings) seems to be their no.1 choice, with an old bluetit nest coming a close second. Failing that, any soft, natural (but it HAS to be natural) stuff might do – hay, unravelled string etc.
Bumblebees are hygienic souls who value their privacy, so we left them a vestibule or antechamber for use as a toilet, and also for somewhere for them to stand guard outside their nest. They like that too.
Much beyond that, we can’t say. You might actually be better off spending your time planting some nice lavender bushes and leaving the bumblebees to it!
An alternative suggestion, given that many species of bumblebee like nesting close to or under the ground, is to use an inverted terracotta flower pot. You have to ensure adequate shelter and drainage to avoid damp in the nest but you may have some luck just popping a flower pot upside-down in a dry spot. The bumbles can get in and out through the hole in the base of the flowerpot (which will now be sticking up into the air, of course). Once again, correct nesting material seems to be crucial. You’ll need to fit an overhanging roof, held up off the pot to leave enough of a gap for the bumblebees to get in and out.
If you’re feeling really ambitious, you could try half-burying the flower pot, in which case you really need to think about drainage. We suggest using a lattice of twigs and sticks, but anything that keeps the nest up away from the damp earth should suffice. You also need to provide an access tunnel – a section of hosepipe fitted through the side of the pot and leading to the surface ought to do the trick. In this case, the flowerpot hole will only be needed for ventilation so you should cover it with some form of gauze or grille to keep predators out. The roof can also be much closer to the base of the pot.
If you get any luck with other designs, please do let us know!