Cavity Nesting Bee Condos

Hutchings Bee Condos - Function over Form; Designed for scientific research, but suitable for everyone to learn about bees.
(I no longer am willing to ship bee condos abroad as the shipping costs are ridiculously expensive. Please copy what I have and give me credit, especially those that are trying to be entrepreneurial about it. I am an educator, not a business.) Here is a video of how I make bee condos:
An interesting article when considering putting up bee condos at all:

'Bee Hotelsas Tools for Native Pollinator: Conservation: A Premature Verdict?

J. Scott MacIvor

Laurence Packer

Biology Department, York University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

"Bee-washing: A Call for Research

We advocate for due diligence on the part of retailers and promoters of bee hotels to avoid "bee-washing"; that is, green-washing [44] as applied to potentially misleading claims for augmentation of native and wild bee populations. To ensure "bee-washing" is minimized, it is imperative that more research be performed on the design and effectiveness of bee hotels. Bee hotels are useful for ecological and behavioural studies, outreach in citizen science and pollinator education campaigns. Sampling with them can even reflect the diversity of the larger bee community (e.g. including bees that nest in the ground [45]. However the magnitude of potential pitfalls noted above needs to be assessed through continued study, especially of the impact of hotels on native bee population dynamics. Such work would also provide detailed data on the pollen and nesting resources used, parasite assocation, sex ratios, and behaviours.

Copying and Plagiarism - Okay, so some out there will most likely use our unique Hutchings Peek-a-Boo system and/or Hutchings Open Tray system of condo which we have developed over two decades. We can't blame you for copying a superior design feature, but if you're going to market or sell them, we would prefer you did not. What we would appreciate is at least giving our name the credit of developing these unique features. After all, we put it out here on the internet for all to see after many years of retaining it for ourselves so hopefully one could appreciate that in itself.      You're welcome.

"Creative Commons licences fall into different licence categories according to the following conditions:
  1. Attribution: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your copyrighted work — and derivative works based upon it — but only if they give you credit."
  2. Noncommercial: You let others copy, distribute, display, and perform your work — and derivative works based upon it — but for noncommercial purposes only.

First off, here's a comment from a person who bought one of my condos:

"Your design is technically far superior, but your average backyard gardener isn’t going to know that.  I think many people who become interested in this are initially attracted by the idea of bees that live in a little house…and it’s easy to make the mental leap from “birdhouse” to “bee condo.”  Until people have some experience with bees, it’s all about the looks and all they know is the instruction sheet that comes with the house. 

If you decide you want to pursue selling the houses at garden centers, that’s an angle to consider, but I have purchased other bee houses, and while honestly, some do a fairly decent job, they're vulnerable to predators and mold.  Theirs come in a nice little peaked house that looks charming in the garden.  It’s put together with only a few nails and warped after just one season."

Here's another querie from Dave in Washington:

Hello Norm and Gord,
I watched 100's of making mason bee houses on you tube and was prepared to just drill holes in blocks of wood essentially building mason bee traps, I was so happy I stumbled onto your video to see the right way to do this, I built a couple bee condo's out of scrap wood around the house set them out side and watched them like a new mother.
I was excited to see mason bees using my condo with in days of being set up, I do have a couple questions
You kept the mason bee and the leaf cutter bee cocoons separate do you put them both in the same hatching tray or do you keep species separated and place leaf cutters in their own hatching tray?
I have herd that you can keep the clean cocoons in a jar in the fridge for the winter and place them outside in the spring once say my apple and cherry trees are in bloom is this correct or more internet misinformation?
What time of year do I collect the condo's and bring them in to clean and store the cocoons?
Thank you for doing a great video

My response:

Hi Dave,
"and was prepared to just drill holes in blocks of wood essentially building a mason bee traps"
Definitely not the way to go.
"or do you keep species separated and place leaf cutters in their own hatching tray?"
We keep them separate just because we're keen on seeing the leafcutters survive all the way. It's also emerging and not hatching. Hatching is from an egg and the adult bees emerge after a winter's diapause state.
"I have heard that you can keep the clean cocoons in a jar in the fridge for the winter and place them outside in the spring once say my apple and cherry trees are in bloom is this correct or more internet misinformation?"
Not exactly, but we do not recommend this as the fridge has an environment that is quite desicating and can kill a lot of your bees. Just leave outside and away from a sunny window and put in the fridge nearer to the time you want to let them emerge. Personally, I never put them in the fridge and put outside next to my condo set-ups in the field at the beginning of March.
"What time of year do I collect the condo's and bring them in to clean and store the cocoons?"
If all the holes at the entrance of the condos are plugged, this shows that the channels have been completed within. That means no more bees can access them and you can take the condos down and put away. However, you have to be careful not to knock, drop or roll the condo around as the young larvae can be shaken from the pollen mass and can't get back on (pathetic I know, but they're rather helpless at a young stage). Put the condos away from wetness and all predators. The main culprit predators are the Monodontomerus wasps.

Suzanne C. wrote:
"I'd like to mount my condo in the most favourable site, so I just went on your website to try to find a description of where to/where not to put up one's condo but couldn't find any info regarding this topic.  Would you consider putting instructions on your website of what people should think about when trying to determine a suitable place to mount their Hutchings orchard mason bee".
Okay, in short for those that don't attend my classes or presentations, it can be any direction except for North, but more importantly, it should not be in direct, sustained hot sun as this can kill the larvae within, especially mid or latter part of hot day. Put up on a hot wall/backing, but with shade in front of it. An overhanging roof works well. East gets the early risers out, west gets the last part of daily activity continuing. I have done both and had the bees working different "shifts". Keep out of direct wind driven rain and sprinklers. Don't have water pooling below your emerging area as mating bees can fall in and perish. Don't mount on a spot that moves or shakes. Tree trunks encourages more ants and/or earwigs to take over and the bees hate that.
Leaving condos out late in Fall, encourages overwinter yellow jacket wasps (Vespula spp.) queens to take up residence in your condo channels.
Height should be chest high to up 2nd level story, but I haven't gone higher myself yet. Low to the ground and later in the summer, encourages leaf-cutters. Smaller hole (5 mm or 3/16") and later in summer encourages other Osmia species.
The latest style of condo which prevents the bees from going in to the small spaces between the box and the actual trays. By leaving the space extra large, the females will not squeeze in here to try and utilize them for more nesting space. The whole apparatus mounts on an angle so the trays fall down on an angle to keep them aligned together. I have had to put an extra piece of wood on top of the entire sandwich tray block in order to keep the light out from the top tray.
This one is not painted but I recommend painting them in order to contrast with other natural things in the bee's world. White, yellow or medium blue works best.

A selection of Hutchings Bee Condos, all featuring the pull-out trays as well as an optional “Hutchings Open Tray System” as one of the trays. All trays are standard “Hutchings Peek-a-Boo System”, for bee monitoring and observations. The emphasis is on education and interaction with the bees activities. Different species of bees that often utilise the condos can also be documented. Lengths of trays vary from 8” to 11” so as to make available for the females to lay more female eggs in the channels. Channel widths range from 5/16" to 1/8" depending on species. 5/16" and 1/4" widths are all round-bottomed channels and 1/8" are square dato'd. Length of trays vary from 3 ½” to 11”, depending on the application such as either gardener-types to the orchardist.


The popular 3-trayer with 3 individually separated, round-bottomed channels, all peek-a-boo covers of course.

Hutchings Peek-a-Boo Tray system. This model has each channel with its own see-through cover, and taped on all edges.

Hutchings Open Tray System, peek-a-boo version. Don't think it works? Check this out then-----
With Hutchings Peek-a-Boo system, you can see the 3 females working away even in broad daylight! So much for solitary bees huh? These open trays are about 5/16"-3/8" high showing why it's ridiculous when some experts say the channels have to be round. I've used square, half round, round and these flat open trays, all to good results.

Now, for the commercial pollination program at orchards. This is our Hutchings Bee Barn System. We have 15-21 tray versions.

Here's the 15-tray unit above,
and the 21-tray unit to the left.

The Hutchings Bee Barn of course has the Hutchings Open Tray System

Each tray features the Hutchings Peek-a-Boo Tray System. These can also be individually sealed per channel if requested.

The Hutchings Peek-a-Boo Tray System after being up for 4 days in Spring 2010.
People who get one of my boxes, seem to be afraid of pulling out the trays so they don't disturb the bees. At the time of the year when they are very active, don't worry about this. When a bee flies into its channel, wait about 8 seconds, pull out the tray and see what she is up to. When they are adding to their mass provision, they go in head first, regurgitate their nectar, then either turn around right there, or crawl out backwards 'til they get to the entrance, do a 180 turn and go backwards in again. You'll see them back up to where they just regurgitated their nectar and begin to scrape the pollen off their scopa onto the sticky nectar, making it all adhere together. Pulling out the tray once they are active, doesn't register too much with their limited brain capacity, they aren't too good at multi-tasking. If another bee flies in to try and find its adjacent channel, put the tray back in and they will shortly fly right in, and then you'll have two to watch. Once finished, they leave to fly off for another load. When it comes to adding mud, they simply go in frontwards and do their masonry work using their heads as their wall-making tool.
If I lived in Australia, I'd be building boxes for hives of stingless bees like in this video. But, I'd add a plexiglass cover to it so I could see in once in a while. Check it out: Building a Home For Australian Stingless Bees

And, how to split the hive of a native Trigona bee nest: Australian Native Bees in the Inner City
Individual cell development.
Linear cell development in the tray channels. Usually one female per channel but sometimes usurpation goes on between females if nesting resources become limited.
May 10, 2011. These aren't from your short, 4" block condos but 11" length trays, most efficient length for getting females. I can recall over 20 years ago when I used to sell my units through various garden stores here in Victoria that some folks doubted that these units would work.

A female with a fully loaded scopa of pollen inside the Hutchings Peek-a-Boo Tray. You can also see it on the underside of her head where she's been manipulating the flower parts with her jaws.

Go to the cleaning page and you'll see the photos when I was finally cleaning them.
 Interesting how many times I've looked in at them and they lay rather dormant in an upside-down state.
Deck height, or...

yard level, doesn't matter. We always get bees. The entire neighbourhood benefits from our bee set-ups. This is the Hutchings Condo-Tree. Tanglefoot is placed part way up the stake if ants are a problem. A backing or sidewall can be added if wind is an issue too.

Okay, I am getting a lot of emails to make this particular design condo. This is difficult for me to actually show plans because of so many factors that affect things such as thickness of wood, clear peek-a-boo covers, numbers of tape wraps, and tape thickness to connect the covers to each tray. Therefore, what is vitally important is to have the space above and to the sides of the trays not too big within the condo box to allow females to go in and start making cells outside of the trays, and not too tight in case there is swelling of the wood which can make everything too tight and preventing the trays from being pulled out for periodic inspection. Length of tray is your choice but I usually make mine at a minimum of 8" (~20 cm). I put a small backstop piece on each tray made from door-skin material. I also use a brass brad nail at the front of each tray in order to grip it and pull out the tray. I use tape to retain the peek-a-boo covers on each wooden tray and I use masking tape since it is readily available and inexpensive. If a 4-channel tray, I use one large clear acrylic cover. If a 3-channel tray, I use one individual strip on top of each channel and taped not only on all sides, but between each channel preventing lateral or sideways spread of any mites to adjacent channel (see above photos). If it's a Barn bee box for agricultural applications, then I dispense with peek-a-boo system and just clamp all trays together and nail backs and sides on made of door-skin material. Each tray width and length also vary but usually I start with 1"x8" which is actually 3/4" x 7 1/2" (~2 cm x 19 cm).
Material for condo trays is usually pine and you can either purchase 1"x4" boards, or cut down from wider material, especially when I find stuff to recycle. New high quality material has less chance to warp and/or crack, but cost considerably more. Same thing goes for the barn system except wider pieces. Boxes to contain all your trays is up to you but I use plywood somewhere between 3/8" to 5/8" depending on condo or barn size and recyclable material availability. I try and use galvanized nails for better gripping for the box, brass brads for the tray fronts, and small 3/8" - 1/2" regular finishing nails for the tray backs. If you want, you can also glue box pieces together between nailing.

The u-bottomed channels in each tray are cut using a high-speed steel toothed blade custom-made for my table saw, NOT routered but you can go ahead and router them but I find a table saw is much easier set-up and saves on purchasing yet another piece of equipment. I groove the channels in lengths of tray material and then chop into appropriate lengths.  I keep the channels apart from each other by about 5/16"+ (8 mm+) so don't try and cheat and put in say 5 or 6 channels as these will be too close for a 1"x4" tray and allow the mites to spread too much. Also, with each cell being built, you'll find the mother bees slightly push up the covers, and done repeatedly, eventually the covers can be pushed up enough to allow not only mites to spread around, but wasps to crawl down inside from the front entrance.

If you insist, you can make wider channels to accommodate paper tubes to be put in place dispensing with the clear covers all together. Once again, this will change your overall height of stacked trays so beware of space between as stated earlier. Of course, you can vary your channel widths in order to try and obtain different species of cavity nesting bees and wasps. Placement of condos in different locations, heights as well as times of season will produce different species of hymenoptera as well. For instance, 5/16" channels placed in mid-summer, low to the ground right out in your garden sometimes produces species of Leaf-cutter bees (Megacile spp.) in my area. Higher up near dwellings and in mid-summer, I find I get more Wool-carder bees (Anthidium spp.).

The condo box has the top longer than the bottom so it has a bit of a "roof" cover to help keep sun and rain off the trays. Also, the back piece is under the roof top so any potential rain has less chance to drip into the innards of the box, hence the attachment screws being below the whole box instead of above. I use two #6 or #8 screws about 1 1/2" long.

When taking apart, simply cut the tape, flip back the clear covers, pull off, and then extract your cocoons or tubes for sorting and cleaning.

Finally, please do NOT stop emailing me just because I've fulfilled your request for "plans" but correspond with me about finer details and other things. I always enjoy learning what folks are doing around the world.


Here's an article I wrote for Victoria Compost Education Centre The Latest Dirt, Fall 2008 in 2008 on mason bee condos.

Orchard Mason Bees on Vancouver Island
By Gord Hutchings
When I was approached by the Greater Victoria Compost Education Centre to write an article about Orchard Mason Bees (OMB), I decided that gardeners and nature enthusiasts should be provided with a basic understanding of this local pollinator. To give a bit of background to this fascinating native species, OMBs are distributed throughout Southwestern Canada and Western United States and along with many other native species play an integral role in the pollination of plants in North America. A pollination crisis is looming in North America and many other parts of the globe due to loss of natural habitat, altering the plant-pollinator interactions that are critical for crop production.

OMBs emerge only once a year as adults, usually around early March and live until early June. After mating, the female locates suitable egg-laying chambers that will be secure for her offspring. In the wild, suitable nesting chambers consist of fissures in bark, other insect holes or hollow reeds. Around urban developments, egg-laying chambers can be found in house siding and roofing, holes where bolts have been removed, even gaps in lawn chairs and any other place that provides a blind channel. To encourage OMB females to lay their eggs in a human-designed home, OMB keepers create residences with a variety of channelled orifices called ‘condos’. Condo is a perfect description for these chambers as the OMB females come together to lay eggs but prefer to remain completely independent of one another, similar to the behavioural pattern of the Purple Martin (which some birders may be familiar with!).

Figure 1. Schematic view of stacked pine wood trays with channels and clear plastic inspection covers at each level.


Guess what this is?
See if you can guess what this is, and why it happened. Email me at and let me know your guess and I'll tell you if you're correct. I've provided a large image so you can really see what's going on.