Perhaps you’ve already seen it—the structure of wooden boxes stacked together under a sloped steel roof, each box showing the exposed ends of bamboo poles, hollow flower stems and cardboard rolls. It sits by UNC Asheville’s pollinator garden on University Heights, and it’s a shelter for some of our very special campus visitors: bees. This is the Bee Hotel.
The Bee Hotel is a collaboration between UNC Asheville and the Asheville Design Center (ADC), which selected the Bee Hotel idea for its annual Asheville DesignBuild Studio program.
“At the beginning of the summer, UNC Asheville wanted to provide bee nesting habitat and ADC was looking for a project to teach design principles to a group of students,” explained Jackie Hamstead, environmental specialist at UNC Asheville. “By partnering together, we created a common opportunity to address these uncommon goals.”
“The opportunity to work with the university in our backyard really jumped out at us,” said Chris Joyell, executive director of Asheville Design Center. “A bee hotel has so many different avenues that will allow students to explore all kinds of creativity. We have an opportunity to create a model that could be proliferated in Asheville and beyond.”
The Asheville DesignBuild Studio included a team of students from Clemson University and UNC Charlotte, who worked together on this multi-disciplinary, hands-on, educational experience to design, develop and build the Bee Hotel. They called themselves Studio Bee.
“We started in the beginning of June, and we had some understanding of bees, but we began with a lot of research,” said Alex Sanchez, a member of Studio Bee. “We also met with Bee City USA and they helped to give us the proper resources to have better knowledge of bees in general.”
The students of Studio Bee also met with UNC Asheville’s facilities and ground management team to determine which design would best suit UNC Asheville.
“For the structure, the main goal for us was to come up with a solution for a structure that could be at UNC Asheville for a long time, something that wouldn’t deteriorate,” Sanchez said. “So the best solution for us was to go with steel. Also a great advantage for steel is that it can support a lot of weight, so we were able to use that to our advantage to develop these box modules that will take a lot of weight for the habitats.”
The steel roof that covers the box modules is also designed to collect rainwater, which can be used to water the pollinator gardens adjacent to the Bee Hotel. The boxes themselves are made from marine grade plywood, “which is pretty high end stuff,” according to Studio Bee member Graham Pankratz. “It’s really durable and will hold up against the elements outside.” It’s also material that won’t be toxic to bees and other pollinators.
The Bee Hotel also incorporates reclaimed and recycled materials, lending to its mission of sustainability. Some lumber and cement tiles left over from campus building and remodeling projects were collected from UNC Asheville’s storage warehouse, and UNC Asheville’s facilities team contributed logs from downed trees on campus.
Though construction on the Bee Hotel is complete, it may be a little while before the structure is buzzing with activity. Solitary bees generally start occupying habitats like the one provided by the Bee Hotel right before winter or in early spring, according to Jen Rhode Ward, associate professor of biology.
“The campus Bee Hotel will benefit our native pollinators in multiple ways,” Ward said. “It is adjacent to high-quality habitat, including the Glenn's Creek Greenway and native plant gardens, the latter of which were planted and are maintained by the UNC Asheville grounds staff. Its design, which was informed by both aesthetic and scientific perspectives, provides a safe location for pollinators to live during the growing season and to overwinter.”
The Bee Hotel isn’t just for bees; it’s also an educational tool to be used by the human community at UNC Asheville. The students of Studio Bee created informational panels that fit within the modular box design of the Bee Hotel.
“It’s the facts that the general public should know about the bee nursery itself,” explained Studio Bee team member Cole Abler, “and just basically highlight what the pollinators do for us, and how they live and how they nest and why bee nurseries kind of important.
“One of the main things that we included are what the bees are known for and why we need them, like what crops they produce,” Abler continued. “For instance, they’re responsible for all the berries in Western North Carolina.”
The informational panels also explain general facts about bees and pollinators, like how they collect pollen and how they nest. The panels are easy to remove and replace with new panels such as art projects, giving the community another way to interact with the Bee Hotel.
“The bee hotel has already been visited by students in four courses, will be used in undergraduate research, and has been seen by hundreds of students, campus visitors, and shoppers at the North Asheville Tailgate Market,” Ward said.
Check out the Bee Hotel for yourself, and don’t miss the Bee Hotel Ribbon Cutting at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 13 at the pollinator garden on University Heights.
Want to lend a hand to our friendly pollinators? Here’s some advice from Melissa Acker, UNC Asheville’s grounds manager, on how to help bees in your area.
In addition to providing places for nesting and egg-laying, provide pollinators with places for foraging like pollinator gardens. Guidelines for planting include:
•Choose plants native to your region.
•Plant in locations that are primarily sunny.
•Choose plants according to soil conditions.
•Plant as large an area as you can maintain.
•Include a diversity of species that resemble native plant communities.
•Include a variety of flowering plants so that food sources are available throughout spring, summer and fall.
•Plant large clumps (3’diameter) of each species.
•Always include native grasses and sedges.
•Locate foraging habitat near nesting habitat.
It is also important to provide overwintering habitat by leaving the stems of wildflowers standing.
Research has shown that the use of neonicotinoid insecticides can be harmful to pollinators. Always use the least toxic methodology for controlling pests.