Friday, April 1, 2016

Pollinator Hotel Project Contest

Our Entry 

Our Halton Master Gardener group entered the pollinator hotel contest taking place at the Canadian Master Gardener Conference in April this year. We are really proud of our finished product. Here's our story...

In the Beginning...

We all checked images on the Internet and shared them with the team via email. There are a lot of really amazing pollinator hotels! We found that many pollinator hotels consist of some kind of wooden box as a base. We had limited construction skills and limited time so I looked around the house and scavenged materials. 

I already had 3 double wooden boxes at home that were part of the packaging from a new vanity. And I also have a wonderful husband who is a carpenter, so that helped with the skills part. My first thought was that we needed a roof on the box and dividers for the existing 2 sections-and here's what the awesome hubby came up with.

Change of Plans

I was happy with this initial design idea until I discovered two different things-this pollinator hotel image on the Internet-- I loved the horizontal line of mini houses--sort of like a streetscape...
...and this great variety of wooden houses at the local Dollarama store! 
By the time I went back to the store, many of them were sold, so we had limited choices!
If I turned one of my base boxes longways, the houses could sit on top.  I presented these ideas to the group at our first planning meeting.  By then we had already purchased two other nice commercial houses from the Royal Botanical Gardens gift shop-a butterfly house and a ladybird house-both were green and had metal roofs.

The team liked the little houses sitting horizontally and we decided to add metal roofs to the two houses from the Dollar store. We re-purposed a heavy aluminium foil tray lid to cut out the roofs. Now the four little houses had somewhat matching metal roofs.

Metal roof cut from heavy duty aluminum foil

Painting- Psychedelic vs Neutral Colours

Our two fancier commercial houses were already painted in a green wash. The team opted to paint the 2 other houses blue and the box a neutral colour. We wanted to make sure the paint we used was non-toxic for our pollinators so we used wet tea bags to give the box a natural look and food colouring for the houses. We started with blue and added some red which made them kind of turn out purply rainbow looking! 
Tea and food colouring paint-you can actually use the tea bag itself to paint rather than a brush.
The rainbow effect was unexpected!

Thinking "Inside" the Box

The two base sections were designated for solitary bees on the left and lacewings or ladybugs on the right. We had a good collection of wood rounds cut to length and hollow stems for the section dedicated to solitary bees. We used magnolia and birch log rounds and 1/2 rounds. We used mostly phragmites stems (they are free and easily found-unfortunately) and some rolled paper cut into lengths for the hollow stems. Pithy stems were goldenrod. Once all was in place, off we went to drill holes with the drill press. 

Cut wood to depth of the box-use whole and half rounds or square pieces of wood.
Left-Start filling with the biggest pieces then the twigs. It takes a lot of twigs to fill the box!
Middle-Use hollow or solidstems-some bees are more DIY and prefer pithy ones!
Right-Finally filled-now for the drill press!

Woman Love Power Tools

Perhaps the most fun was using the drill press to make the holes in the rounds. It was easier to drill the holes with the wood securely held by the box, especially for the smaller rounds. We started with 5/16th" holes for mason bees and then made a few smaller ones. 

We were very proud of this finished section of the box!

Now for the Parlour?

The next section we tackled brought out the "interior designer" in some of us. We placed items carefully, adding an escargot shell, spruce and pine cones, moss and rolled up birch bark and cardboard. 

While these are all valid items for lacewings and beetles to hide in, the "staging" was a bit reminiscent of a doll house. :-) This area will be protected from curious critters with a mesh covering. You could also use chicken wire or any other mesh.

Final Touches

An overhang was added to the box to keep the bottom sections dry and the houses were secured to the box from the bottom using screws. (Thank you husband with drill skills!) 

A team member suggested we put branches behind the houses and that led to the plan to add "rose picks" behind the houses so that we could insert "live" branches or flowers to our streetscape. 

Pussy willow branches in the rose picks will give a unique spring quality to our hotel. You could also use native flowers -it is a "pollinator" hotel after all! 

Plastic netting was stapled over the "lower east wing" to deter critters from rearranging our "parlour".

The interior decor of the ladybug house and butterfly house were completed.

Left-rolled birch bark and cardboard will keep our ladybirds "snug as a bug in a rug".
Right-twigs are perfect perches for butterflies hiding from the elements. 
Just a bit more...
A few cute little touches to finish things off...
Our Hotel Gets a Name and a Description
We needed to give our hotel a name and also describe it for the contest. It was hard to resist being "punny" when describing our hotel! 
"Fellowship of the Winged Inn" recognizes that many pollinators are of the winged variety. We have used only non-treated, natural and recycled materials to create the ideal home for a variety of valuable pollinators. All surfaces have been carefully prepared so that “no wings” are harmed from dangerous splinters. We are very proud of the unique living branches that are freshly delivered to our inn and make it such a "special place to bee". Individual sections can be easily replaced or cleaned as needed to control disease and parasites. 

The lower east "wing" is designed for free spirits such as lacewings and beetles who want a cozy and comfy space that they can make their own. Please note the security mesh which keeps this area safe from inquiring critters. The "west wing" is the "bees knees"-with custom 5/16th" condos for mason bees and a variety of sizes perfect for any discerning solitary bee. The upper “wing” includes 4 custom residences: Butterflies and moths are most welcome to take shelter from the elements in this elegant home away from home. The interior twig décor is guaranteed to please. Next to that is a quaint space for our nesting avian pollinators. Nesting material is provided throughout our inn. A green upscale design with custom rolled cardboard interior will keep ladybugs "snug as a bug in a rug". Our last house is an elegant abode for the most discerning of bugs. Ornate on the outside but simple on the inside, this home will be a favourite for any local DIY bugs.  So whether you are a Lepidoptera, a Neuroptera or a Hymenoptera, we have the have a special space for you!

The Big Reveal! 

Here's the finished product! What do you think?


  1. Very impressive. Certainly a winner in my books.

    1. Thanks Patty! Certainly a great bonding over power tools opportunity!

  2. Found your post through a Lee Valley Tools garden newsletter. Very nice.
    I do the display windows for the Ida Rupp Library, Port Clinton OH. This past spring one small window was all about gardening, including a small bit on bee houses. I'm planning on expanding on that idea next spring, with plans and ideas for pollinator havens. Would it be OK for me to print your post and include it in my display, in part if not in full, so long as I included your blog address on the printed pages?

    1. Hi Susan, Just saw your post. Yes, please print and share the post!

    2. Susan, you may also like the article on this site. It's from the UK, but has lots of interesting info about upkeep of pollinator hotels.

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