by Leslie Cox; Friday; March 31, 2017

Bumble bees in Eupatorium maculatumBumble bees are very important pollinators in our gardens. They are often the first to appear in spring…even when the temperatures are still hovering at only 6 °C (43 °C).

It is the queens who appears first, fresh from winter hibernation. Once she has sated her depleted reserves, she begins looking for a suitable nesting site to lay her developing eggs conceived when she mated in the fall. What she is searching for is an abandoned rodent nest…a place already set up with suitable nesting materials which is warm and snug.

But preferred nesting sites can be in short supply because of urban encroachment and agriculture practices, such as ploughing. This is where we can help. We can build adequate substitute nest sites for the bumblebees in our own gardens…using materials which are easily accessible.

Here’s how:

Materials for building a bumble bee nestMaterials:

  • a terracotta pot larger than 8 in (20 cm) in diameter
  • 12 – 20 in (30 – 50 cm) length of ¾ in (2 cm) diameter hose or flexible tubing
  • some chicken wire
  • a tile or shard from a broken terra cotta pot
  • nesting material*

Note: * Ideal nesting material for a bumble bee nest is what can be found in a rodent’s nest. But since you likely do not have this material close to hand…nor hope to…you can substitute clean, dry straw and bits of dry moss. If your kids or grandkids have a pet rat, gerbil, hamster, or guinea pig, you can use some of their bedding for your bumblebee nest. It is the smell of the nesting material which lures the queen bumble bee to the nest.


  1. Locate a quiet, shady spot in your garden. Dig a hole wide enough for the pot and deep enough to submerge the pot a third of its height into the hole.
  1. Cut a piece of chicken wire large enough to make a loose crumpled ball to fit in the mouth of the pot. This is to support the nesting material and keep it dry.
  1. Punch some holes along the length of the hose or pipe using a darning needle or small awl.
  1. Push the hose up into the wire ball so the end sits slightly above the wire ball and at a slight angle. This will allow the bumble bees to climb in and out of the nest easily.
  1. Loosely pack the nesting material into the wire ball, being careful not to plug up the end of the hose.
  1. Carefully place the wire nest and hose in the hole. Position the hose on the ground, making sure the hose end in the nest is still showing slightly above the nesting material.
  1. Place the pot carefully upside down in the hole over top of the nest. If your pot is heavy, support the edge where the hose protrudes with a piece of wood or small branch. You do not want to crimp the hose.
  1. Fill in the hole around the pot, being careful not to get any soil or debris in the entrance end of the hose. Make sure the hose entrance is visible just a little above the level of the soil.
  1. Place the tile, or shard of terra cotta pot over the drainage hole, making sure it is cocked just a little to allow air flow, but not so much as to allow too much light into the nest. The bumble bees like their nests on the dark side.
  1. You can leave this nest in place for a few years. It may take a year or two for a bumble bee queen to decide your nest meets her requirements. In the meantime, time and weather conditions will erase your human scent from the nest. Once it is accepted, the nest will be suitable for raising future generations of bumble bees for a few years.