“The hum of bees is the voice of the garden.” — Elizabeth Lawrence
Caring for your Mason Bees is easy. There are no special tools required. Depending on how many Mason Bees you have, maintenance only takes between one to three hours or as little as 30 minutes once a year.
Maintenance is usually performed during the cool fall or winter months. At this stage, the Mason Bees in your bee tubes are hibernating. By providing maintenance for your bees while they’re hibernating, it prevents your native bees from succumbing to mites and other dangers and predators.
“At the end of September,” said experienced “Bee Mama” of 3,000 Mason Bees Anita Elder. “I removed and opened all the tubes. One of the books I had purchased said to look for parasitic wasps and mites. I found two of the wasps, but very few mites.
“The book also said to rinse the cocoons in a colander (they are waterproof),” Anita continued, “then put them in a mild bleach solution (1 tsp. bleach to 4 qts. of water), then remove them to a white paper towel to dry. If there were any yellow or orange stains on the paper towels, then mites were still present. I was lucky and had none. All in all, I had over 400 cocoons!
“Once the cocoons were dry, I got a plastic container and placed a wet paper towel in the bottom. You need some moisture since modern refrigerators have very little humidity.
“This container also had an insert, so I could separate the wet towel from the small box that contained the cocoons. Closing the lid, I put it in my refrigerator for the winter.
“The following year, I felt like a proud mom! All but about 40 of my harvested cocoons hatched! I added a nesting block from Crown Bees that year, instead of the cardboard tubes. I found it allowed for quicker harvesting and clean-up.
“Since my start with mason bees,” Anita continued, “I typically harvest over 3,000 cocoons. My Asian pear trees are producing bumper crops and taste sweeter than ever (I get so much fruit now, I donate 75% of the pears to City Fruit).”
Here are the basic steps to perform maintenance on your Mason Bee house:
- Remove the paper nesting tubes and gently unroll to reveal the individual cocoons
- Collect the cocoons on a paper towel
- Then place into a water bath with a 10% bleach solution (10 parts water to one part bleach)
- Shake the water bath to agitate the water
- Place the cocoons on a dry paper towel and gently dry off
- Place the bees in your refrigerator inside a closed container with a wet paper towel for moisture (the moisture is essential to prevent the bees from drying out before they hatch in the spring)
NOTE: The agitation will not disturb the hibernating cocoons. The cocoons are also waterproof and will incur no damage by following this method. It’s easy to care for your Mason Bees and it takes a minimal amount of time to reap the greatest rewards with bigger blooms and even increased fruit production.
For complete instructions on how to perform maintenance on your Mason Bee house, visit how to “Harvest Cocoons: Step by Step” on the Crown Bees website.
SOURCES AND INTERESTING LINKS:
“Attract Mason Bees — No Protective Gear Needed,” Beaudette, Judy. Ecological Landscaping Alliance. Mar. 15, 2013. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://www.ecolandscaping.org/03/beneficialspollinators/attract-mason-bees-no-protective-gear-needed>.
“Frequently Asked Questions,” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. 2018. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://crownbees.com/faq>.
“Harvest Cocoons: Step by Step,” Crown Bees: The Native Bee Experts. 2018. Sept. 4, 2018. <https://crownbees.com/harvest-cocoons>.
“Mason Bees: Raising Beneficial Pollinators,” Elder, Anita. The Mountaineers. May 2, 2018. Aug. 10, 2018. <https://www.mountaineers.org/blog/mason-bees-raising-beneficial-pollinators>.