Encourage useful creatures to the garden with a bug hotel, says Katherine Miller
I’m quite squeamish when it comes to creepy crawlies, but as a mum of two boys, I decided to be brave and embrace the mini-beast adventure that I thought was expected of me, for their sake. It was my idea to construct an insect hotel – an interesting feature for the bottom of the garden that we could make together, but I didn’t expect everyone to be quite so fearful of bugs!
This project is perfect if started at the beginning of the summer break – collecting things then building and adding items later. For a few weeks we collected suitable material and scavenged all sorts of things from the gardens of friends and neighbours. The kids filled their pockets full of pine cones and sticks to bring back to our pile of house building “stuff”.
Even whilst we assembled the hotel, insects started to visit: we had woodlice, worms, crane flies and spiders, but anything that buzzed resulted in both children disappearing indoors.
It was then that I realised that they have inherited an amusing trait from their father, who has been known to treat us all to a spectacular performance that I affectionately call the ‘wasp dance’. Quite spontaneously, it seems all the boys in my house can leap and jerk and dance to music only they can hear, in order to dodge bees and wasps. Impressively, my husband can do this without spilling a drop of the drink in his hand – but if we are lucky enough to be out, I pretend not to know him.
How to build a bug hotel
Our hotel started with a wooden pallet, which was going spare at a house refurbishment nearby.
Once sawn into quarters, it provided a useful base for layering all the other items.
The kids had fun sorting all the material into piles; bamboo canes, sticks, broken pots, bricks and logs which we had drilled holes in. Insects such as lacewings (which eat aphids) and solitary bees love to nest inside these holes. Two spare roof tiles on the top ensured the hotel would keep dry.
Toads like cool, damp places, so we put some leaves under a broken terracotta pot, and although I don’t like toads very much, I like the fact that they eat slugs, so we made room for them in our hotel too.
I recently went on a school trip with my son, whose class was visiting a local country park for a mini-beast project. His fear of bees disappeared when he was with his friends, and the quest was on to find a beast with the most number of legs. All the boys and girls had a great time collecting bugs in clear plastic containers and identifying them.
We tried this at home and the kids roamed around our garden for ages with magnifying glasses, finding all sorts of things. We discussed the goodies and baddies: ladybirds both red and yellow eat aphids and are welcome in our garden; woodlice (pictured below) unless in great numbers don’t do much damage to plants, so we leave them alone; Slugs and snails are dispatched and we point them out to hungry birds; and as for bees, we are learning to love them, because they play a vital part in pollinating our plants.
A few days later when we weren’t expecting it, the monster of all bugs appeared on the side of our house, a harmless but impressive stag beetle – the perfect finale to our mini-beast adventure.