You don’t have to keep hives to do your part to help pollinators. Here’s how to make a simple waterer for bees and butterflies, using things you already have at home. Read on to learn why we should all make the effort.
Why It’s Important to Provide Water for Bees and Butterflies
If you think bees and butterflies only need water to stay hydrated; then, prepare to be amazed.
Honeybees also use water to:
- Regulate the Temperature and Humidity of the Hive – They place drops of water in the brood nest area; then, flap their wings to create an evaporative cooler to keep the developing brood and eggs at the proper temperature. They also use this technique to keep the wax comb from melting on hot days
- Prepare Food – They dilute honey that has crystallized, so they can eat it. They also dilute the food that the nurse bees produce to make it suitable for the queen, developing larvae, drones and workers bees
- Gather Sodium and Other Vital Minerals – Ever seen bees collecting water from a dirty source? That’s because they’re after the minerals in the water. It turns out, vitamins and minerals are as important to bees as they are to humans
800 worker bees are responsible for collecting all the water for the hive. It takes each of these worker bees an average of 50 trips a day to collect the quart of water that the colony needs to survive. On hot days, this need can expand to as much as a gallon of water. When it does, more bees are temporarily assigned to water collection. Just imagine how much work it takes to collect a gallon of water drop by drop. Now, imagine carrying each of those drops for five miles – because that’s how far bees are willing to travel for water.
By providing a clean, reliable water source in your yard, you are doing your part to cut down on the distance these hard-working bees have to travel. This allows the colony to assign more bees to honey production, which contributes to a healthier hive. If you’re a beekeeper, this also means more honey.
And honeybees aren’t the only bees that need water. A native bee, known as the mason bee, requires a steady source of mud to cap their nesting holes. This protects their eggs from birds and other predators, until they hatch.
While butterflies don’t require drinking water, like bees (they get plenty from flower nectar), they do need dirty water to meet their mineral needs. If you’ve ever seen butterflies drinking from puddles, this is what they were doing.
Ready to build a waterer for bees and butterflies, now that you know how important water is to them? Let’s get started!
How to Build a Waterer for Bees and Butterflies
Here’s how to build a simple waterer for pollinators, using a cheap vase and bowl. Keep reading after this tutorial, for more ways to make a waterer, using things you probably already have in your yard.
What You’ll Need:
- A small glass bowl
- A vase
- E600 (or another heavy-duty glue)
- Rocks (these can be decorative glass rocks, or just rocks you’ve collected from your yard)
- A garden stake (to support your waterer)
What You Do:
Wash and dry your glassware. This will help the glue to make a good adhesion.
To make your waterer, you’re going to glue the base of the bowl to the base of the vase. Test fit several bowls and vases, until you determine which fit together best. Then, glue them together.
Allow the glue to dry and cure. Then, install your waterer in your garden. To install mine, I used a two-foot-long piece of epoxy-coated rebar that I bought on clearance at Home Depot a couple years ago. But, you can use any sort of garden stake that’s narrow enough to fit inside the vase.
To install, simply drive your garden stake into the ground. Then, slip the waterer over the stake, and level it up.
Now, fill your finished bee and butterfly waterer with small rocks, and fill the bowl with water. The rocks will give the bees and butterflies a safe place to sit, while they’re collecting water, so they don’t drown.
If you don’t have rocks, sticks will also work. You just need to give your pollinators something to sit on that’s higher than the water.
If you don’t have any glassware on hand, you can also make a bee and butterfly waterer by filling a non-porous plant saucer or a shallow dish with rocks and water.
Bees and butterflies become reliant upon water sources, so it’s important to keep your waterers filled. Just get in the habit of refilling your waterers, whenever you water your plants, and you’ll be good.
Have one or more bird baths in your yard? Consider repurposing one for birds and bees. Just place a rock in the basin to give them a place to sit, or stick corks, sticks or other floating material in the water, so they’ll have a safe landing spot.
A spare chicken waterer also makes a great waterer for pollinators. In fact, if you have chickens, you’ve probably already observed bees swiping sips from your chickens’ waterer.
For a completely hands-off waterer, just place a bird bath top, or another shallow container, under your AC condensate drain. It’ll refill itself several times a day, as the humidity is pulled from your house. We’ve had ours in place for several years, and it’s become a water source for all sorts of wildlife.
It’s even gotten dirty over time, as leaves have fallen in and decomposed, so it’s a good source of minerals.
How to Provide Minerals and Mud for Pollinators
To provide the pollinators in your yard with a steady supply of minerals and mud, just add some organic soil or sand to the bottom of your waterer. Then, add new soil/sand periodically to replenish the mineral content. This is a great use for some of the soil from your compost bin.
How to Keep Mosquitoes Out of Your Pollinator Waterers
We’ve all heard that we should eliminate all standing water from our yards to control mosquitoes. That’s well-intentioned advice, but it threatens the survival of pollinators. If you want to help bees and butterflies, without turning your yard into a mosquito breeding ground, you just need to do one of two things:
- Find a way to agitate the water in your waterer, so it’s not an inviting place for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. The waterer I have under my AC condensate drain gets agitated every time the drain pours more water into it. Likewise, the simple, gravity-fed design of a chicken waterer agitates the water as it’s used and replenished.
- Refill your waterer regularly. It takes 7-10 days for mosquitoes to hatch, so as long as you replenish the water in your waterer every 5 or 6 days, you’ll eliminate the eggs, before they have a chance to hatch. This doesn’t mean you have to completely empty and refill your waterer, either. Just fill it to overflowing, so the excess water runs down the sides, and it’ll get rid of those eggs. Remember, bees and butterflies actually need some dirty water to get the minerals they need.
Warning: Exercise caution, if you have kids running around. They can drown in as little as two inches of water.