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Sunday, May 29, 2011

Flowers for Bees

Flowers provide food for bees in the form of nectar and pollen.  Thus flowers are critical to their survival.  However, not all flowers produce pollen and nectar.  The best way to find flowers that are attractive to bees is to go to a garden center on a sunny day.  Bees will point the way to attractive flowers, the ones that will provide them pollen or nectar or both.  The ultimate for bees is the have a garden that has continuous bloom from spring through the summer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Effect of overwintering temperatures-RESEARCH ARTICLE

A very interesting article by Bosch and Kemp from Utah State University in Logan, on the effect of overwintering temperatures.  This is a summary of their research results.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Setting out cocoons- SMALL scale verses LARGE scale

Mass release of alfalfa
leaf cutter bee cocoons.
I started this article some time ago, before I had all the pictures in place.  Even though most mason bees have been set out, I think it is good to compare mason bee release systems to the commercial Alfalfa Leaf cutter bee industry mas  release system.  I think we can learn a lot from the 50 year old alfalfa leaf cutter bee industry.

How to set out bees, still in their cocoons, depends on quantity of cocoons, type of nests and whether predators exist in the area.

Leaf cutter bee nests
Alfalfa leaf cutter bee producers in the Canadian Prairies, usually mass release leaf cutter bee cocoons on trays.  Thousands of cocoons are placed on trays.  Trays are set up inside yurts or similar structures that house leafcutter bee nests. Three weeks prior to setting cocoons out, leafcutter bees are put through a warming period so that bee emergence is relatively fast.  Trays are out for less than a week.  A mere 7 days or so is little time for winds and predators to upset the trays full of cocoons.
Prairie yurt with a tray of cocoons
set on top of nests.
It is a different story with mason bees.  Emergence is often longer than a week, especially under cool spring temperatures.  The number of cocoons set out are often  less than a hundred or several hundred and less often in the thousands.

Setting out a few cocoons (less than 100) small vials with a bee size hole in the lid works well.  Plastic vials are usually rodent proof.  The space underneath the roof of the Beediverse Highrise  is a great place to place the vial full of cocoons.  This space is protected from the sun, but receives the heat through the roof.
the Highrise roof protects vials
of cocoons from
predation and sun.

Beediverse Emergence box
protects cocoons from predation
and the elements.
When setting out 100 or more cocoons, small vials are too cumbersome and too time consuming.  It would be very easy to set out cocoons in open trays.  I have tried setting cocoons out in trays, even in covered trays, but it has been less successful.  Their extended emergence becomes problematic.  Winds sometimes tip trays onto the ground  Trays also make cocoons more vulnerable to predation from animals such as spiders, squirrels, mice, and wasps.  To decrease the chance of predation a wooden box with an exit hole such as the Beediverse Emergence Shelters gives the best result.  Two are sold for $19.95.

Small and large release boxes.
Dave M.  Port Alberni BC
I find these extremely handy.  I fit about 200 cocoons into each one.  I make notes on the outside to tell me where cocoons were produced.  This is handy because after spring emergence, I can check what the emergence was the previous spring.  Emergence should be 95% or more.

David M. from Port Alberni uses a square box with a hinged lid.  Each box, with two layers of cocoons, holds about 2000 cocoons.

If you have a system you would like to share with our readers, email me a description and pictures.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Link to '10 Easy Fruit Bearing Trees'

Keith writes:
"We would love to share with you an article that we just posted on our own blog! 10 Easy Fruit-Bearing Trees” ( ) would be an interesting story for your readers to check out and discuss on your blog.
 Either way, I hope you continue putting out great content through your blog. It has been a sincere pleasure to read."

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Using markers to help bees find their nesting tunnels

There are two simple ways of marking a nest to help bees find their nesting tunnel-  with colour and design.

Honey bees can see hues of blues and yellows.  As far as we know mason bees do likewise since these are the colour of flowers attractive to bees.  Other colours like green and red are probably seen as shades of grey.  Use a water based paint with a brush or finger paint designs onto nest.

Design need to be kept simple and not complex.  Complex designs will likely not help bees find their homes.
Use one letter across the face of a nest. If it looks a little bare- add a coloured dot above the V and below to O  for example.   Simple designs consist of letters/numbers such as:

       V          O      T        L           7
No design is ok too, but increased searching time for their nest, decreases foraging time for provisions and egg laying time.

Simple designs will assist bees in finding their nesting tunnels.
The rough edges of the lines are a helpful addition to the
coloured letter.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sticky dots for monitoring nests- from Cal.

" I noticed something was trying to dig into the finished mud cap on one of the tunnels and I got to thinking.  Once sealed there is no need for it to be exposed.  Avery can write the date on them, covers the tunnel for better safety from pests.  
You can also monitor the hive easier and see when new tunnels are sealed and tell when the fun has stopped for the summer."

Great idea Cal!



Saturday, May 14, 2011

Questions from Barry on longevity,survival in cold temperatures

Thanks for your questions Barry.  My comments are in blue.

Hi, Barry here.
I have a couple of questions about Mason Bees.  Any help would be great.

I have been raising Mason Bees for 3 years now in Minnesota.
I had purchased them on line.

I started with about 120 to 180 bees and have doubled or tripled my
count.  I have made multiple types of Houses and Traps.
If my Bees fill every hole, reed, tube and cavity I have put out for them
I figure I might have as many as 1000 Bees to store this Fall.

My first question is how long can Mason Bees be kept dormant?  It depends on the amount of fat reserves the bee has- ie the amount of food it was fed during development during the previous spring. 

I would like to start putting some out next year in April and continue
putting out more Bees for a couple of months.

Could dormant Bees be kept in a Small fridge for over 6 months?  Yes, but it would depend on their food reserves in the form of fat reserves.

I pull the Bees houses down in November and store them.
By April it has been 6 months that they have been in my fridge.

I have an old Dorm Fridge that works really well for keeping them at a nice 35 to 38 degrees.
This lets them have the "cold snap" they need without stressing them from the great outdoor temps.

Second, I would like to know what is the coldest temp that Mason Bees could survive?
I've seen Minus 26 degree temps just in my backyard here in Minnesota.
I have heard that 10 degrees and colder can do them harm, any thoughts on this?  I would generally agree with your statement.  My recommendation are to keep mason bees away from minus temperatures.  A good way of doing this is by keeping them in the fridge.

When I open my house to clean and collect my Bees, should I separate any different bees like Masons and Leafcutters?  I separate them out because mason bee cocoons can be cleaned and leafcutter bee cocoons cannot be cleaned.

Should I put them out at different times during the year?   Since setting cocoons out at the nest makes them vulnerable to predators, I would set them out close to their natural emergence time.

Bonus Question, how far will Mason Bees travel away from the bee house to find Pollen?  I have read they can fly about 300 meters to 1500 feet.  Is this about right?  It depends on the density of bloom and availability of food.  In a commercial blueberry field most mason bees travel within 500 feet.  In a suburban lot, bees were observed to fly a distance of 3 lots, which is no more than about 300-400 feet.  

Thanks for your time.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Help Mason Bees more easily find their home.

This is a question I have been asked several times-  How to help mason bees find their nest.

In nature, mason bees do not have this problem since one nest is on a post next to  the wood pile and another nest might be in a wall of a shed. But when many nests are right next to many other nesting holes bees often have a problem of returning and finding their 'home'.  

You may wonder what a 'lost bee' looks like.  The bee acts 'lost'.  It flies into one nesting hole, immediately flies out and goes into another nesting hole.  This continues for several minutes.  This searching behaviour is a waste of time.  When a simple design has been added to the nest, it takes only about 30 minutes before the bee goes directly to her nest with no searching whatsoever.

All you need is some acrylic paints.

The trick is to provide a simple design, and not a complex design that it does not help the bee at all.

I will now go to work and create some simple designs on nests that will help mason bees find their home.

More later.

6" Petri dishes for Cocoon storage

In a previous blog I wrote about 6" diameter petri dishes that are so handy for storing large numbers of cocoons.  When you have a large number of cocoons, it is  wise to keep them refrigerated.  Refrigeration keeps them away from predators and keep them relatively safe. BUT I must reiterate that humidity has to be at least 60%.  In order for cocoons to survive, there has to be at least 60% humidity.  Any thing less than that will kill the bee over time.  Use a fridge  that you manually have to defrost .  These fridges keep humidity over 50%.  As a precaution keep a container of water inside the fridge.
Petri dish for storing 100-200 cocoons

A stack of petri dishes filled with cocoons are placed inside this fridge for storage.  Cocoons are then placed into release houses ready for release.

This is the freezer compartment in a manual-defrost type fridge.  The stack of petri dishes are just below this compartment.
Use a thermometer to let you know when temperatures are too warm or too cold.

A container filled with water ensures a greater than 60% humidity.

Release houses filled with 100 cocoons are held in the fridge, prior to  releasing into the D27 yurt.  The cardboard straw temporarily plugs up the front entrance of the Starter Cottage.

Mason Bee 'Catcher'

Under certain circumstances, it is handy to have a container into which you can place escapee mason bees.

These escapees are mason bees that have emerged inside the house and are buzzing around in the basement or in kitchen.  Not that they are going to do any harm, but it is nice to be able to set them outside so they can go about their business.    This handy little gadget can easily be made by anyone.  It requires a pop bottle and a pair of scissors.   

Find a pop bottle.

Cut pop bottle into half with a utility knife of a pair of scissors.

Invert the top into the bottom.  Make sure that the 'top' of the bottle
is about 1" above the base of the bottle.

Mason Bee catcher ready for use.

Add any escapees into the Catcher, and release them outside.

If the bee is very active, slow it down by setting it into a fridge for
about 30 mins and then release.

A happy bee that has just been released.

D27 YURT for mason bees- ready for spring

The opening in the roof of the D27 yurt
is used by mason bees that are
 exiting the yurt and is for venting any excess
 heat during the summer months.
D27 yurt is ready for spring.
The silver colour of the tarp is on the outside.
The blue colour of the tarp faces the inside.  Two posts
protect it from severe winds.

A row of Highrises are attached at the roof line.  This is the  warmest position inside the D27 yurt.  Release houses with cocoons sit on top of Highrise homes.

Temperature at roof line is 85+F

Outside (N) temperature of 64F
Temperature one foot down from roof line is 76F
Temperature  2 feet down from roof line is 71F.

The increase in warmth of the D27 YURT can only be a boon to mason bee production

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Male mason bee peaks out of a release cottage

"Anybody there?"

"Mmmm.  It looks cold out there."

"What is that thing out there?  A human being?"

"I am going to wait for some sunny weather before I get going."