The word “insect” conjures up a whole range of images. Kids will talk about lady bugs, butterflies, and bees, cute creatures that dot the landscape with beauty, just like flowers in the garden, fuzzy animals and sunshine. By the time they are adults they might think of flies, stinging wasps, termites, mosquitoes and those annoying critters that might interrupt a perfectly good day or beat us to our home grown vegetables before we get a chance to pick them. But love them or hate them, they are here for a very good reason, and there are billions of them behind the scenes performing tasks that we humans are largely oblivious to.

A crucial role that these humble creatures play is pollination. Without it one third of our food crops would not produce fruit or set seed for the next generation. Bees in particular are currently in real crisis. There is a large shortage of honey bees in our cities and urban sprawls and native bees and wasps have limited or no habitats.

FoodFaith are creating Sydney’s first ever B & B highway to combat the issue. The “B” in “B and B” stands for bed and breakfasts for birds, butterflies, bees, and biodiversity. The native bee needs food and shelter every 500 meters, and that’s hard to find in our densely populated urban city.

The B & Bs will serve as resting hubs for them to recharge between work. As we build more and more B & Bs a bee “highway” is created. Our vision is to create gardens and beehives all over Sydney to create green sanctuaries for pollinators and people alike.

The B & Bs will host pollinating gardens and native stingless beehives to foster positive social and environmental outcomes. The Sydney community will benefit from host organisations sharing knowledge, educational sessions and practical offerings such as seeds and honey. And as well as encouraging community participation, the project’s pollinating passageways will provide much-needed sanctuary rest and revival points for pollinators across the urban environment.

What is an insect hotel?

In cold climates, an insect hotel is a hibernation place for insects. In the summer it is a nesting place. But no matter the type or creative design of an Insect hotel, they all have one thing in common – they provide smooth, cylindrical spaces, 4 – 9 mm in diameter and at least 15 cm deep, perfect for the native stingless bees who are solitary by nature, and who use these spaces to hatch their young.

Because our parks, gardens, cities, public and private spaces are kept neat, clean and safe, there are very few dead branches left lying around to provide the crevices for bee nurseries. When building your own bee hotel you can use materials from nature like bamboo sticks or holes drilled into wood. Just bear in mind whenever you are building an insect hotel that the materials should be non-toxic, and to use non-toxic adhesives and paints. Bees are not fussy about what they use or what it looks like as long as it fits their needs and is in a sheltered spot out of strong sun and rain.

When built properly, an insect hotel can be the perfect habitat for insects in the garden, orchard or food forest and stimulates the diversity of insects. The result of diversity is an improvement of the overall ecological balance in the garden.

Who takes up residence in an insect hotels?

An important aspect of the hotel is attracting insects and native solitary bees. Each climate has its own species of native bees. In fact, there are more than 1500 species of native bees in Australia and they play an important environmental role pollinating plants.

Native bees are in many aspects not comparable to honey bees — they show different behaviour and they come in different shapes and colours. An example is the Mason Bee (Osmia rufa) that look to nest in cavities in walls, plant stems and dead wood, like we provide this in insect hotels. The advantage of native bees is that in most cases they do not sting.

How to make your own backyard insect hotel

There is no standard design for an insect hotel. Just design with your available materials — preferably recycled and natural materials. Be creative with the materials you have. 

Assembling the Insect Hotel

Arrange the different nesting materials by evenly spacing the habitat types within the television casing. Pack it tightly so nothing moves. Fill in any gaps with bundles of pithy stems and bamboo pieces.

A good tip is to first gather the materials before you determine the size of the hotel.

  • Fennel stems - Strip foliage from main stem and then cut stem into lengths making sure there is at least 10 - 15 centimetres of pithy stem between joints. Tie cut pieces together with twine and place them in the 'hotel.'

  • Bamboo hollows - Cut bamboo stalks into sections leaving 10 - 15 cm of hollow stem between joints with an enclosed end to entice the bees.

  • Drilled logs - Use untreated sections of cut logs. Using a variety of drill bits ranging from 3 mm - 8 mm, drill holes into log to a depth of at least 10 cm. Space the holes around 2 cm apart. Use sharp drill bits to minimise burrs to keep the tunnels smooth and inviting.

  • Clay packed pipes and blocks - Pack sifted clay into earthenware pipes or concrete blocks. Using a poker that is 8mm wide, push holes into clay around 10 - 15cm deep into the pipe.

Positioning the Insect Hotel

Ideally the insect hotel should be facing between the north and east, in a sunny to semi-shaded position that is sheltered, above 1 metre off the ground, but no higher than 2 metres. Make sure it won't get too hot in summer and keep it out of the rain (or build it with a little roof).

For a creative way to build your Insect Hotel, check out this video from The Garden Gurus.

Speaking of hotels

What do London's Buckingham Palace, New York's Whitney Museum of American Art and the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris all have in common?

They're all keepers of honeybees, part of a growing collection of bee-friendly landmarks around the world! In recent years, global hotels have joined the urban bee-keeping trend too, bringing their own honey direct to their tables. 

Here's a look at five top luxury hotels creating a buzz in their local communities:

1. Waldorf Astoria New York

On a rooftop 20 stories above Park Avenue in New York, some 360,000 bees produce more than 136 kilograms (300 pounds) of honey, harvested annually, which not only finds its way into the hotel's menus, but also into treatments at the hotel's Guerlain Spa. Twice weekly, the hotel's Historical Tour stops off at the garden to see the hives and its more than 60 types of herbs, fruit, vegetables and edible flowers.

2. Mandarin Oriental, Paris

Paris has been a pesticide-free zone for the past 10 years, making the capital of France an attractive urban environment for honey bees. With the help of local organisation Apiterra, 50,000 bees reside in the Mandarin Oriental rooftop beehive, with last year's sweet haul totalling 25 kilograms.

3. W Taipei

Following a good eight months of prep work, W Taipei became the first urban beekeeping establishment in Taiwan when it opened up its 32nd floor rooftop to host some 150,000 busy bees in partnership with Syin Lu Social Welfare Foundation. After six months and two harvests from the Sweet Reward program, the bee colonies were moved to another downtown building as part of the foundation's larger urban beekeeping project.

4. Fairmont Waterfront, Vancouver

The pioneer of in-house honeybee production and supporting global bee health is Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, whose Bee Sustainable program comprises honeybee apiaries at more than 20 properties across the world.

In June this year, the Fairmont Waterfront became one of the first hotels in the group to build a solitary pollinator bee hotel (aptly named Bee & Bee) designed to give busy bees a break between pollination missions. Image below.

The hotel also hosts 500,000 resident honeybees in the 195 square meter herb garden on the third floor terrace, which forage over 67 square kilometres and 60 different plants (particular favourites being the pollens from blackberry blossoms and American bamboo blossoms).

5. St. Ermin's Hotel, London

St. Ermin's has been keeping bees for some four years now, first on the main rooftop and later expanding the installation to include a specially planted wildflower terrace where a new bee hotel -- the first hotel in the UK to have one -- now resides.

The hotel in London had their own honey analysed, with results showing their bees gather nectar from over 50 different plants and trees within their three-mile forage radius (which includes Buckingham Palace Gardens and St. James' Park).