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How to Build a Bee Watering Station: Tips and Ideas for a Bee-Friendly Yard

Bees are amazing little workers that never seem to stop buzzing. From sunrise to sunset, they tirelessly perform all sorts of crucial tasks to keep their colony thriving. These busy foragers can travel up to 5 miles from home collecting pollen and nectar to feed the developing larvae waiting back at the hive.

With their pollen baskets full, they zip back at around 15 mph to quickly deliver this vital nourishment before heading right back out.  A single bee can visit thousands of flowers each day.

But pollen gathering is just one small part of a worker bee’s very full schedule. They also have to clean the nursery cells, make wax, store honey, guard the entrance, patch any cracks or holes, care for the babies, control the temperature inside by fanning their wings, and even remove any unfortunate bees that didn’t make it. The list goes on and on – bees never get a break!

Speaking of breaks, bees actually need water breaks too, just like the rest of us hard workers. You might be surprised, but water is absolutely essential for honey production and cooling down the hive on those hot summer days.

So whether you’re a beekeeper or just appreciation these amazing pollinators, making your yard a little more bee-friendly with a simple water station can go a long way.

Just imagine how refreshing a nice cold drink of water feels after being out in the heat all day. Well bees need that sort of refreshment too! They don’t need anything fancy like an automatic ice dispenser, just a simple homemade water dish will allow your local bee population to grab a drink and get back to their very important work.

Let’s look at some easy ideas for setting up a bee-approved water station in your yard:

Why Do Bees Need Water?

It’s a fact – bees drink water! These thirsty little insects need to stay hydrated, and water is vital for keeping their whole colony healthy and humming along. But it’s more than just disposable drinking water for bees. Here are some of the main reasons they need a steady water supply:

  • Honey Consistency – If stored honey gets too thick or crystallizes over time, bees mix in water to thin it out and make it easier to eat again.
  • Baby Food – For the first couple days of their fuzzy little lives, bee larvae eat a diet that can be up to 80% water mixed with pollen and secretions from worker bees.
  • AC Units – On hot days, bees spread water droplets around the nursery area and fan it with their wings to create an evaporative cooling system for the hive.

So helping provide a fresh, clean water source can allow bees to better care for their young, regulate food stores, and keep the whole hive at a comfortable temperature. Win-win!

Bees Need Water
Credit: Northumbrian Bees

Bees can sometimes locate less-than-ideal water sources like swimming pools or puddles that may contain chemicals. To really give local bees a helping hand, an inviting backyard water feature designed specifically for their needs can be a total game-changer.

Tips for an Ideal Bee Watering Station

To create the perfect setup for your neighborhood’s hardest workers:

  • Safety First – Since bees can’t actually swim, water features need some way for them to land and drink without any drowning risks. Add in rocks, twigs, marbles or corks to create little islands they can rest on while sipping.
  • Bee Aromas – Bees are drawn more to scents than visuals, so make the water a little stinky in a good way! A hint of salt or soil can attract them from yards away.
  • Location Matters – The water station will be most popular somewhere out of the way of foot traffic, but close enough to flowering plants that bees will easily find it.
  • Keep it Fresh – Be sure to refresh the water weekly or more during hot spells when bees need it most. This also prevents mosquito eggs from hatching and ruins their party.
  • DIY Designs – A basic bee drinking station needs 3 simple components: a reservoir for holding water like a bucket or barrel, some sort of drainage pipe or conduit, and a shallow soil or sand-filled basin for the bees to actually drink from. Get creative with materials, just make sure to provide some rough landing surfaces.

There are so many easy and inexpensive ways to give hard-working local bees a drinking oasis right in your own backyard! Just a few simple adjustments can make a world of difference for these valuable pollinators.

Read more on Bat-Friendly Gardens: How to Attract and Support These Nocturnal Pollinators

Bee Watering Station Ideas

Make Your Bird Bath Bee-Friendly

If you already have a bird bath in your garden, it’s not just for the birds! You can transform it into a buzzing bee hotspot too.

Since bees aren’t strong swimmers, tossing some stones or pebbles into the bath provides them with convenient landing spots to rest and hydrate without fear of drowning. These shallow bird baths are ideal for bees as they can easily access water from the edges.

This dual-purpose setup is a favorite among hobby beekeepers. In my garden, I have four such birdbath watering stations, and it’s delightful to watch bees frequent them throughout the day. It’s a cost-effective solution as well.

To make the spot even more inviting, you might consider leaving the water for a few days or even floating some petals to attract these essential pollinators. Bees are drawn to bright flowers, which they spot easily from above.

However, remember that bees perceive colors differently than humans. Red appears black to them and signals danger, so they generally avoid red flowers. They are, however, attracted to blue and purple hues due to their ability to see ultraviolet light, which highlights invisible patterns on flowers that guide them to the pollen.

You can arrange the stones any way you like in the birdbath—piled on one side or spread out to ensure multiple dry spots for safe landing. Adding colorful stones or marbles can not only look attractive but also serve a practical purpose.

Plus, such a setup isn’t just limited to bees; butterflies too are likely visitors. They share the bees’ inability to land on water, so they’ll appreciate these safe, dry spots to rest and sip water.

Make Your Bird Bath Bee-Friendly
Credit: Meadowlily Farm

Repurpose a Hummingbird Feeder

Bees have a unique way of drinking; they use a proboscis, which is like a tiny straw, to suck up liquids. This nifty tool can extend about a quarter inch, allowing bees to delve deep into flowers for nectar or lap up water from various sources.

Consider setting up a hummingbird feeder as a bee-friendly watering hole. Typically, these feeders won’t set you back more than $20, and they’re easy to install just about anywhere in your garden. Instead of filling them with the usual sugary solution, just use plain water.

This simple switch turns it into an ideal spot for bees to hydrate. Hummingbird feeders, especially those priced under $15, make excellent, budget-friendly bee watering stations.

The design of a hummingbird feeder, featuring several feeding ports, is perfect for creatures like bees that have proboscises. Filled with water, these feeders become an attractive spot for bees to gather.

However, using a hummingbird feeder for bees might attract wasps too, but don’t worry, this can be beneficial. Wasps not only help control pests but also play a role in pollination, making them valuable garden allies.

If your garden already includes a hummingbird feeder, you might have noticed that bees are as drawn to it as the hummingbirds. For an effective bee watering station, opt for feeders in yellow or blue, and simply fill them with water instead of sugary syrup.

Read more on Freeze Concentration: A Game-Changer for Maple Syrup Makers

If you prefer to keep bees and wasps away from your hummingbird feeders, consider choosing or painting them red. Since bees perceive red as black, which signals danger to them, they tend to steer clear of these colors.

Repurpose a Hummingbird Feeder for bee
Credit: Home Sweet Bees

Self-filling Pet Water Bowl

Keeping your bee watering station continuously filled is crucial, especially if you’re not always around to check on it. For those of us who might forget to top it off regularly, an automatic pet water bowl is a handy solution.

Just toss a few stones into the bowl to create safe resting spots for the bees. As the water level drops, the device automatically replenishes it, ensuring a steady supply for your buzzing visitors.

If refilling a bee watering station frequently doesn’t fit into your schedule, consider a gravity-fed pet feeder. These devices are affordable, typically under $15, and can hold just shy of a gallon of water. Remember to add rocks to prevent bees from drowning by giving them a place to land and rest safely.

Automatic water bowls originally designed for cats and dogs are perfect for those who are often on the move. They use gravity to keep the bowl filled, pulling water from a reservoir as needed to maintain a constant level.

These low-maintenance solutions are particularly useful in the warmer months when water evaporation is higher. You’ll need to refill them more often during this time, but they require less attention during the cooler spring and fall seasons.

Always ensure there are enough rocks in the bowl to provide a stable landing area for the bees. Smooth, steep sides can be tricky for bees to grip, increasing the risk of them slipping into the water. Strategically placed stones not only help prevent this but also make your watering station a safe haven for hydration.

Self-filling Pet Water Bowl
Credit: Honey Bee Suite

Use a Poultry Feeder

Chicken feeders, similar to gravity-fed bowls for pets, are durable enough to withstand outdoor conditions. When using these feeders, it’s helpful to fill the dish with pebbles or marbles if it’s more than a few centimeters deep.

Hanging poultry feeders also utilize gravity to maintain consistent water levels, much like automatic pet bowls. By suspending these feeders from a tree branch, you can easily keep them off the ground.

These feeders are designed specifically for outdoor use, making them sturdier. To ensure the safety and dryness of bees and other small creatures, consider placing pebbles or marbles around the feeder’s edge.

Use a Poultry Feeder For Bees
Credit: Buddha Bee Apiary

Terracotta Pot Waterer

Creating a bee watering station couldn’t be simpler. Just flip over a clay pot and top it with its saucer—you’re all set!

Here’s how it works: invert any pot and place a detachable saucer on top. Terracotta is a great choice for its natural look, but any clay, stone, or concrete material works well. These materials have a textured surface that provides good grip for bees, making it easier for them to land and drink, especially if the saucer’s edges are gradual.

If you opt for a glazed pot, adding a few stones in the saucer can create handy perches for the bees to rest on. Ideally, choose a pot about 8 inches wide or larger to hold more water.

Terracotta Pot Waterer For Bees
Credit: Epic Gardening

Terracotta pots are charming as-is, but you can personalize yours with craft paint if desired. Set your DIY station in a level part of your garden, scatter some pebbles in the saucer, add water, and watch as your buzzing buddies come over for a drink.

Koi Pond

Incorporating a koi pond into your garden not only enhances its beauty but also attracts wildlife, like bees, drawn to the scents from the fish and aquatic plants. To create a safe space for bees at your pond, ensure there are shallow sections and plants for them to land safely, away from the fish.

While a pond liner is effective for maintaining cleanliness, it’s important to expose some parts of the pond to natural elements like soil and rocks. This interaction helps infuse the water with essential minerals that attract bees, such as salt.

Bees typically frequent the pond’s perimeter, sipping water from the moist earth. If using a liner, install it slightly below the ground level to allow the surrounding soil to absorb water, making it an ideal spot for bees to hydrate. This setup ensures your garden remains a vibrant and life-supporting habitat.

Koi Pond For Bees
Credit: Vic Ceder

Hose or Spigot

Introducing a gentle drip from a garden hose or spigot can be a perfect way to attract bees to your yard. They require only minimal amounts of water, so even a slow trickle, amounting to a few drops per minute, can satisfy their hydration needs.

Using a soaker hose is another excellent method to supply water to both your plants and the local bee population. Arrange a soaker hose in a coiled pattern within a planter to ensure a steady water supply.

This setup benefits the plants and draws bees to the moisture that escapes the planter’s bounds. Remember to maintain low water pressure to conserve water while keeping your buzzing visitors hydrated.

Hose or Spigot For Bees
Credit: Epic Gardening

A Tiny Bee Beach

Did you know bees are drawn to water not just by sight but also by smell? Alongside the earthy aromas of a garden, they’re surprisingly attracted to the scent of the sea. Any shallow dish or container can serve as a water station, but glass is preferred to avoid chemical leaching from plastics.

Creating an inviting bee watering station is a brilliant idea. Simply gather natural elements like stones, moss, grass, leaves, twigs, seashells, pine cones, and a few sprigs of flowers. Arrange them densely in a basin, allowing bees to drink without dipping their feet.

Although this setup is showcased in a birdbath, you can use any shallow dish. Adding leftover oyster shells, especially those from your last cookout, enhances the appeal—no need to clean them; the stronger their smell, the better. Bees can detect this oceanic aroma from afar and will be drawn to your crafted bee haven.

For another twist, fill the container with sand. Bees extract moisture from the sand similar to how they would from damp soil. Create small indentations to form tiny pools and provide little resting spots for the bees around these areas. This not only hydrates them but also makes your garden a prime stopover for these essential pollinators.

A Tiny Bee Beach
Credit: Youtube

Get Creative

Setting up a bee watering station doesn’t have to be a complex project. Any container that holds water will suffice to quickly provide fresh water for bees. Scour your home for suitable items—shallow pans like casserole dishes, pie plates, and baking trays are perfect for this.

Don’t discount deeper vessels like buckets or troughs either. These can work well if you stack rocks up to the water’s surface or toss in some floating aids like twigs and wine corks to help the bees access the water safely.

Even something as simple as an overturned Frisbee can become a makeshift bee waterer, so let your creativity guide you in finding potential water holders around your home.

Repurposing household items into bee watering solutions is both simple and effective. For instance, floating a few wine corks in a dish creates a safe platform for bees to land on and drink without falling in.

Alternatively, construct a ‘bee bar’ by attaching metal or plastic bottle caps along a bamboo stake with hot glue. Plant it in your garden and occasionally sprinkle it with water to keep it inviting.

For a natural touch, place a sea sponge in a dish of water. Its scent and structure make it an ideal landing spot for bees, allowing them to drink comfortably with their long tongues.

Attracting Bees to Your Water Station

Have you wondered how bees will find their way to your water station? Imagine a honeybee pausing for a refreshing sip, its iconic black and yellow stripes glistening in the sun as its wings shimmer. Bees, vital pollinators, search for water sources based on their seasonal needs for nutrients and minerals.

Interestingly, bees don’t rely on their vision to locate water; instead, they use their keen sense of smell. Research suggests that throughout the year, bees are drawn to water sources containing specific nutrients or minerals they require. You might spot some early risers gathering dew from leaves at dawn.

However, during droughts, their quest for water becomes more challenging, making an artificial water source a lifesaver. Despite having five eyes, bees heavily depend on olfactory cues for navigation.

Mildly scented water is far more attractive to them, explaining their affinity for saltwater pools. From observations, bees seem to prefer slightly murky water with some vegetation.

To enhance your water station’s appeal, try adding a few drops of lemongrass oil or a pinch of salt. Once bees discover your setup, there’s no need for further additives. If you’re a gardener, position your water source close to bee-friendly blooms.

Interestingly, bees are often enticed by the scent of moss, aquatic plants, and the earthy aroma of decomposition. They’re even attracted to swimming pools, as the chlorine helps deter tracheal mites. Fresh water that smells clean to us might be overlooked by bees; they prefer a more natural scent.

Unlike humans, bees aren’t seeking pristine water. You don’t have to obsessively clean or refresh your bee waterer daily. They’re more likely to visit a station with algae, making it easier for them to detect.

If using tap water, remember that it may not be as appealing to bees. They typically search for water with higher sodium levels, especially during warmer months. Adding a pinch of salt can make your water spot more alluring. In autumn, when pollen is scarce, they need water enriched with minerals like potassium, magnesium, and calcium.

Placement is crucial for your water station. Avoid areas too close to potential threats; instead, choose a low-traffic spot that’s visible, like a garden or flower bed. This helps protect your bees when it’s warm. Keeping it near their foraging spots can also guide them more easily.

Lastly, remember to keep your water station filled. While rainfall can help, it’s not always reliable, especially during extended dry periods. For an extra touch, mimic a natural setting by adding leaves, twigs, and moss. This enhances the appeal and makes it a prime spot for your buzzing visitors.

No Mosquitoes Allowed

Can you provide water for wildlife without turning your yard into a mosquito breeding ground? Here’s the dilemma: these persistent pests thrive in almost any aquatic setting.

Even the smallest amount of stagnant water, like what gathers in a bottle cap, can support an entire generation of mosquitoes. They’re not picky about cleanliness and can hatch in the muddiest puddles, transforming from eggs to flying adults within just a week.

Fortunately, you can take steps to make your outdoor space unwelcoming for mosquitoes. Here’s your action plan:

  • Regularly inspect and clear out any items that accumulate rainwater, such as old tires, plastic tarps, blocked gutters, children’s toys, and saucers under flower pots. Even a tiny amount of water can become a mosquito nursery.
  • For bird baths or pet water dishes outside, make sure to change the water weekly.
  • Secure rain barrels and cisterns with tight-fitting lids or fine mesh to keep mosquitoes out.
  • Address any low-lying areas where water tends to collect by filling them with mulch, sand, or pea gravel. This helps the water absorb into the ground instead of forming puddles.
  • Mosquitoes are attracted to still water, so incorporating a small fountain or pump in ponds can prevent them from laying eggs.
  • In larger bodies of water, promote natural mosquito predators like dragonflies, minnows, and amphibians to help manage the mosquito population.

Our bee waterer, for example, uses a combination of covering, movement, and infill strategies to prevent mosquitoes from using it as a breeding site.

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