Keep insects protected and useful in winter by providing them with an insect hotel - which also happens to make a lovely present, especially for grandchildren wanting to learn about the insect world. The insects will probably appreciate it too!
In autumn, solitary bees, bumblebees and wasps will be hunting for spaces in which to settle down and rest for the winter period. A ‘hotel’ is just what they need. During the late winter and early spring period, the wasps and bees will lay eggs and drag prey into their nests - which is a great way of dealing with pests.
As well as providing a temporary home for valuable insect pollinators, insect hotels can also offer spaces for bugs such as ladybirds which also hunt insect pests (aphids, for example); and for caterpillars which will eventually become butterflies.
The holes drilled into materials placed in a hotel will encourage insects to leave larvae in order for them to pupate and grow.
Take an old crate, a wooden wine box or even an empty large round sweet tin and turn it into your hotel, or ‘insect hibernaculum’, as it ought properly to be called :)
The container can come in a variety of different shapes or sizes and can be wrapped in a large-holed mesh or chicken wire to hold in all the furnishings. Be creative with the construction, both in terms of colour and materials. You can make these into stylish and beautiful garden objects. Think modernist Bauhaus rather than country cottage.
Logs are very useful. Drill lots of holes of differing sizes, making sure you don't go straight through the wood. Sand over the entire piece once you have drilled the holes to give good smooth edges to the holes to help the insects enter and leave easily without causing them any damage.
Bunches of cut material, such as reeds, pipes and bamboo canes can be placed in the container. Stems of plant material - including from roses, elderberry, cow parsley and other flowering plants with some pith remaining - will provide both shelter and food.
Other items that can be used include old air bricks, pieces of broken tiles and pots, bunches of dried leaves, wisps of wool and loose pieces of natural cloth such as cotton and silk.
Corrugated cardboard is useful to fill empty spaces for certain sorts of insect. For example, lacewings need a clean and dry space in which to breed, hibernate and grow. They are ravenous predators and can consume thousands of aphids and white fly. Use a container like a small cardboard box with the lid removed or even a plastic bottle with the bottom cut out. Fill it with a piece of rolled up corrugated cardboard and add in a little straw and make sure the materials can’t fall out easily.
Make sure your hotel stays dry. The holes you drill should be angled correctly to prevent water-logging - you don't want to drown your larvae and insects. Any inserted objects should have their surfaces and slits facing away from the prevailing winds and weather. Ensure there are plenty of nooks, crannies and spaces that the insects will relish hiding in.
Vary the spaces in the box by using a mix of different types of material to provide varied habitats. Differently-sized holes and materials will attract many different species of insects.
Finally, place the whole hotel in a fairly sheltered place, away from direct sunlight and out of wind and rain. Warm and protected places such as beside a south-facing wall or under some plants or a hedge are ideal.
And, finally, make sure you put it somewhere the grandchildren can learn what hotel-living is all about.