Most people consider bugs to be pests, things to be swatted, sprayed or stomped. It is common for gardeners to spend a good part of their energy ridding their gardens of them, so why would anyone spend time building an inviting home for them?
Have you ever thought of creating a lodging for insects? Actually, there are many bugs and insects that are beneficial to your yard and garden. Chances are that the good insects visiting your garden may just check into your insect hotel.
Not all insects are annoyances, and the fact is that many insects can be helpful to your garden. There are some that hunt and actively seek out and feed on the bad bugs that damage vegetables and flowers. Others are parasites feeding on prey during their larval stage.
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Popular in Europe for many years, these manmade habitats have many names: bug condos, insect hotels, bug boxes, wildlife stacks and bug mansions, to name a few. The buildings vary in size. Large structures are fashioned from wooden pallets while combination bug/bird houses or bug boxes can be created from scrap lumber. As for the contents of the rooms, there are no rules. With a little research and a good imagination, many of the items can be found right in your own backyard.
Our garden has had issues for the past few years, and I was willing to try something new to help it prosper. With some research, I decided to build my own insect hotels. With my mind full of ideas, I enlisted the help of my husband and some power tools.
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There are a variety of materials you can use to furnish the rooms in your insect hotel. Knowing which arthropods (invertebrate animals having an exoskeleton) are in your area may help you decide on your furnishings. (Your local Extension Service agent can help you identify those in your area, both the good and the bad).
• Dead wood and loose bark are perfect for both larvae and adult beetles, centipedes and spiders.
• Tunnels, such as bamboo canes, hollowed-out cornstalks, bricks or holes drilled into wood are welcoming nesting sites for solitary bees.
• Hay and straw create the perfect hibernation site for many beneficial garden insects.
• Dry sticks and leaves create an area similar to the forest floor, providing areas to hide.
• A stone on the bottom provides a cool, damp area that frogs and toads will find comfortable.
• Corrugated cardboard rolled up like a tube can be a home for many bugs.
Find natural materials to fill the rooms in your hotel. With a pair of pruners, a basket and a small handsaw in hand, I searched my yard and the nearby woods. In short order I had gathered a variety of materials to furnish the rooms and attract a diverse group of hotel guests.
Continue your recon mission by searching through your garage, barn, storage shed and basement. Look for some items you should have thrown out long ago that would work well in your hotel. Perhaps a broken brick, rusted pail, small piece of PVC pipe or maybe even an old teapot.
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Decide how you are going to create the structure of your hotel. We have a stack of wood in various widths and lengths from previous projects. Some pieces were already the perfect size. And the slate shingles stacked on the side of our house made a perfect roof for our hotel.
Set out the tools you will need for the project. It doesn’t take much, but we happened to have some helpful items. They included a pencil, a carpenter’s square, screws, a drill and a circular saw. We also used a hammer to break the cement off the bricks and a long, pointed tool to remove the center of the cornstalks.
Now it’s time to begin creating. Either make a drawing or just start laying out the wood to create your structure. Sure, you may need to make some cuts here and there, but it’s your own creation and nobody will ever know if you made any mistakes.
Once the hard part of building your hotel is complete, you can begin decorating the rooms. With all your supplies in front of you, choose the materials that fit the best. When “furnished,” place the hotel near your garden to welcome guests.
Upcycle & Recycle
An insect hotel is the perfect upcycling/recycling project. The wood and screws we used to build the structure were scraps left over from various projects. Near our potting bench we had saved broken bricks, flowerpots missing their saucers and rusted pails. In the yard, there were twigs to pick up and ornamental grasses to trim.
Being able to identify many of the insects in my garden may be helping to control other harmful insects. I no longer squash any bug I find in my yard. With a little knowledge and photos of beneficials, I am now able to make more intelligent life-and-death decisions. And I don’t need to use pesticides. In fact, using them defeats the purpose of attracting beneficials, since pesticides cannot distinguish between good and bad bugs. Some target only specific pests, but can still damage many beneficials.
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Insect hotels can be a charming focal point as well as an inviting habitat for your garden. Limited only by your imagination, create your design by searching your barn or garage for unused items that will furnish and make inviting rooms. Your completed insect hotel will hopefully encourage beneficial insects to take up residence.
This article was originally published in The NEW PIONEER™ Summer 2016 issue. Subscription is available in print and digital editions here.