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Bumble Bee Box

Posted by joeabbott on March 9, 2014

imageSuzy and I have a tacit agreement with easy boundaries and happy compatibility: I build it, she tends it. The genesis of what to tend typically comes far before I start building and it would be better stated like this: we\she decides on a project, we design the bones cooperatively, I go off and build something, and she fills it with growing things. In most cases that’s flowers, shrubs and trees, in a rare departure from plant-life, it was the chickens. Well, we’re now thinking about tending a new creature on the property: bees.

CCD – Colony Collapse Disorder

The plight of our pollinators is well known to many, given then name colony collapse disorder and a significant concern by both those directly involved in the role of bees as pollinators as well as anyone who likes to eat. Yes, that’s all of us.

We’ve happily enjoyed seeing bees buzz about our yard and to anyone who shows concerns at the dozens of bees flying about our gardens, fountain, or seating areas we simply say, “don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.” And it’s true. Knowing their benefit to our small plot of growing things and the world at large, we live in peaceful serenity with their buzzing about our property. But could we do more?

imageSuzy is interested in bees and so it was time for me to go out and learn about building a bee box. And the decision to learn about building a bee box was made easier as my brother- and sister-in-law gave me a voucher toward a Groupon offer … and Groupon was offering a class on building a bee box!

While I’d initially thought I’d be building one of those multi-trayed white boxes that form the home of so many honey bees, the notion I’d need to don a sting-proof coat and hood were dispersed when she showed me the picture and said, “this will be for bumble bees”. Alright: just a simple box, how hard could that be? Bee?

So three weekends ago I found myself with Bob Redmond at Bradner Gardens Park in Seattle with about 20 other people awaiting instruction on building a bee box. This is my little story of that class and my bee box.

Bob Redmond, Urban Bee Company Founder

Bob RedmondBob is an affable guy; he readily remembers names, he’s both learned and handy with a tool, and is easy to approach. He founded the Urban Bee Company and gives classes to people like me: folks interested in hearing more about bees, but not willing to put in the six years of research that he’s done. He makes it easy for us.

He started the class by talking about what bees are and how they work with nature. Meaning he started his talk from 130 million years ago and brought us up to modern cultivation and the central role bees play in our large-scale agricultural farming. And when I say “bees”, Bob made it very clear: of the 20,000 species of bees, there’s a single species we use for nearly everything: the common honey bee.

imageWant wax? Honey bee. Want honey? Honey bee. Want large-scale pollination? Honey bee.

Now, some of these things go hand-in-hand … we really like honey and to get all that honey we need to provide the bees with nectar, a by-product of getting nectar is pollination, and a by-product of being a honey bee is the wax. But this one marvelous bee does it all. Of the 20,000 species, it’s just this one.

However, as we’ve seen in everything from illness in people to potato blights, having a homogenous population opens the doors to trouble. And now we’re in trouble with colony collapse disorder.

Bob’s solution has less to do with trying to bring in more honey bees and looks more at the root cause: modern industrial food production. It’s complex, it’s political, and it’s a tough problem. I’m not ascribing blame and I’m not stepping into that fray to opine my own thoughts, but it’s part of why we were making a bumble bee box: to provide a home for one of the other 20,000 bee species beneficial as a pollinator (albeit, without the wax and honey).

Build that bee box

The two-hour class spent the first hour on Bob’s PowerPoint slide deck of bees and the next hour building boxes. I think he was surprised by the number of people at the event because, while all the lumber was pre-cut, we intended on building everyone a box while at the class And with all fastening being done with a single pneumatic staple gun, we either needed to work super-fast or needed more time.


The information we got before class asked people to bring tools; I had my traveling kit with my drill and a number of other tools; one other person brought a tool: a single hammer. So, we were all stuck behind the person who was running the staple gun. And, after I’d knocked out the air holes in the bee box sides (two other people were helping drill holes), I became “that guy” … the guy running the staple gun. Bob had been doing it but it made more sense for him to float about the room and help other people with the small parts they were doing: using snips to cut away screen to block the air holes from the inside, helping folks making the larger entry hole, advising those cutting the tube that would help the bees enter and exit the box.

imageThere were a lot of parts and a lot of steps and, at the end of the class, we still had probably 10 boxes to be built. I stayed a bit longer and finished another three but my knees were getting awfully sore from kneeling on the concrete floor and assembling the box parts. I surrendered the stapler to another classmate who showed interest in helping but it was clear that it was her first time using the tool. She wasn’t fast (and didn’t inspire confidence) and Bob seemed concerned about everyone’s well-being, so he reinserted himself in the stapling process. At that point, I collected my parts, bid everyone a fond farewell, and retired home for a bit of rest.

The next morning Suzy prodded me into action and I turned those parts into a bee box, into which she added a handful of wood chips, and then placed the box in our yard sheltered behind a large pampas grass plant.

Bob said that only 25% or so of the boxes put out would attract a bee, but we could keep at it. If a mouse or other denizen found the box and made it their habitat, that was OK … all the better for the bee the next year. However, should we attract a bee in our box, we should allow it to enjoy the season and then burn the box the following year: you just don’t want to risk passing disease from one colony to another; the bees will find another home. Which is why, I guess, he was comfortable using a staple gun to assemble the boxes.

The below image shows the general construction. I’m omitting some details like the air holes, wire mesh, and any dimensions: this isn’t my design and if you want to know more, you should contact Bob at the Urban Bee Company … his contact information is handy from that site.

Thanks for buzzing by and don’t bee a stranger! tee hee hee hee



One Response to “Bumble Bee Box”

  1. That’s an excellent summary, Joe, nice work! I love the photos too. And yes, that construction did go slowly. We fixed it for the class the following day, in fact we finished and caulked the seams on all the boxes too. Thanks for being part of the inaugural voyage. Hope the bumbles find that box you set out. Looks good!

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