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Raising mason bees for plant pollination is better than using honeybees. Mason bees are solitary bees and native to the American continent. This article arms you with useful information on how to raise mason bees. Among other aspects, it explores the mason bee house, providing for mason bees and management practices for best results in mason beekeeping. The article also delves into the lifecycle of mason bees so that you get deep understanding of mason beekeeping processes and management practices. Use the tips on how to raise mason bees for successful mason beekeeping operations with great pollination of your plants.
Set up the Mason Bee House in Spring
Set up your mason bee house in early spring. It ensures you are ready to care for a new generation of mason bees in the appropriate season. Mason bees are spring pollinators. They build their nest and prepare the next generation of mason bees in spring. However, avoid the temptation to put cocoons in the house in early spring when there are no flower blossoms on plants.
During set up of the mason bee house, inspect it for damage and repair it as needed. The house should be well constructed so that it provides a suitable habitat for your mason bees. Additionally, check its cleanliness and remove any insects or animals that might be inside the house.
Place the Mason Bee House at a Suitable Location
Select a suitable place for your mason bee house and install it. Placing the mason bee house requires consideration of various factors including the security, safety and ease of access; you should also consider proximity to forage and the plants you want pollinated.
Finally, have the mason bee house facing a southerly direction so that it gets morning sunlight. Its top may be covered with a simple cover so that it does not get direct rain and snowfall on its roof. A simple cover also prevents the house getting to hot at midday.
Best places for mason bee houses include the eaves of roofs, fence poles and trees. When placing the mason bee house, take measures to ensure that the house will not be easily accessed by people who may want to steal it. You should also ensure that predators of mason bees such as small animals and rodents cannot reach the house.
Install Nesting Tubes
Native solitary bees make their nests in a wide variety of places. Some do so in the ground and others in natural cavities of various types. Mason bees go for naturally hollowed out cavities for their nests. They do not excavate holes for themselves, unlike carpenter bees.
For mason bee rearing, there are special nesting tubes that you should install in the mason bee house. Do this during, or just after putting cocoons in the mason bee house. The tubes provide nesting space for emerging mason bees. Different materials go into making the tubes. These materials are from plants because mason bees prefer nesting in cavities on wood.
Common nesting tubes you find in the market and in popular use in mason beekeeping, are natural reed tubes, wooden trays and cardboard tubes. Wooden trays come apart easily and are reusable. Natural reeds and cardboard tubes are not easily reusable. They need you to use special thin paper nesting inserts in the nesting tubes.
Nesting inserts prevent mason bees from building cells directly onto nesting tubes, allowing the nesting tube to be reused. The inserts make harvesting of cocoons easy for you and safe for the cocoons. You may use nesting tube inserts with wooden trays, natural reed tubes and with cardboard mason bee nesting tubes too.
Check Availability of Mud Nesting Material
When setting up and installing the mason bee house, ensure that there is enough nesting material near the chosen location. If there is none, take steps to make some available near the house. Typically, mason bees use mud to make their nests and seal cells. They use any available soil to make some mud with their mouths and carry it to the nesting tubes. Most soils are acceptable to mason bees.
If you are not sure whether the soil near the mason bee house is suitable, you may use some commercially sold mud. Buy it on time and place it near the mason bee house. Making mud uses water to mix with the soil. A source of water near the mason bee house is great for the bees to use in making mud. They might also want to drink some of the water.
- Provide the water in a shallow holding container to minimize the risk of mason bee drowning in the water.
- You should also have a few floating objects such as sticks in the water for mason bees to land on and then access the water.
- Small stones and pebbles are also great for preventing mason bees drowning in the water.
Having these nesting materials available close to the mason bee house, reduces the distance mason bees travel to source for the materials. It speeds up construction of the nests and allows mason bees more time and energy to pollinate plants for you. They are also freed up to collect pollen and nectar for storage in the nest cells they make.
Check Availability of Forage for Mason Bees
Pollen and nectar from plants is enough for the nutritional needs of mason bees. In setting up and placing your mason bee house, ensure that your mason bees will not face nutritional stress and have to fly long distances to get some pollen and nectar. Have a bee-friendly garden with some plants that blossom in early spring to provide some basic amount of pollen and nectar for your mason bees. They will get the rest from the plants they pollinate in your garden or farm.
Release the Mason Bee Cocoons
Release mason bee cocoons when there are some plants with flowers. Do this as early as you can in spring. Once released the cocoons will develop and have adult mason bees emerge from them. It does not take long for final development and emerging of adult bees from cocoons.
You should thus be sure that the emerging bees will find flowers to get pollen and nectar which is their food. Releasing mason bee cocoons is a simple and straightforward process. Fetch your mason bee cocoons and place them in the mason bee house that you have set up.
Ensure that as you release mason bee cocoons, you meet the following criteria:
1. Ensure Security
Released mason bee cocoons can quickly turn into food for predators. When releasing them and placing them in a mason bee house, ensure they are safe and secure. They should be difficult to reach by predators such as rodents. This requirement is easily met if you have a mason bee house that is properly constructed with a cocoon compartment.
Having a mesh or other protection for the mason bee house also helps. Mason bee houses on poles require the pole to have a rodent guard on them. The rodent guard is a conical sheet of metal or plastic that makes it difficult for rodents and small animals to climb up the pole. Some people might want to steal your mason bee cocoons or the mason bee house too. Ensure that the cocoons and mason bee house are safe from the bad intentions of such persons.
2. Place in Appropriate Compartment of Mason Bee House
For best results, place cocoons in the cocoon drawer of the mason bee house. They are warmed to the right temperature in the compartment and protected from predators. In the compartment, the cocoons develop quickly and adult bees emerge from them. This compartment has a suitably sized opening through which the emerging adults escape the compartment. Remove the cocoons from their wrapping paper towel as you place them in the cocoon drawer. It ensures that bees that emerge from cocoons are not restricted from getting out of the mason bee house by the wrapping paper.
- You may use alternative methods to ensure security for cocoons in your mason bee house does not have a cocoon compartment.
- Suitable alternatives include placing the cocoons in a wooden box with a hole in it, and then placing the box in the mason bee house. You may screw or nail the box into place to ensure it is not easy to remove by predators.
- Make the box using cardboard or other strong wood product that protects the cocoons.
You may also close the front of the mason bee house and leave on a small opening through which mason bees can leave the house. This ensures security for the mason bee cocoons you have placed in the bee house. The lower part of the house may hold nesting tubes for emerging mason bees to use. Place the cocoons on the uppermost nesting tubes and then close up that section of the mason bee house’s front. In this set up, nesting tubes close the lower section of the front and provide a barrier to any predators that would harm the cocoons.
3. Ensure Emerging Bees Can Exit the Mason Bee House
Despite where you place mason bee cocoons in the mason bee house, make sure that there is an opening through which mason bees can leave. It would be very bad for mason bee adults to emerge from their cocoons and then find that they are sealed inside. If they cannot leave to go forage for food, they will die. A small hole is enough for the mason bees to use as an escape. The hole also provides and avenue for aeration of the chamber in which you have placed mason bee cocoons. Aeration ensures oxygen is available to the cocoons and also regulates humidity in the chamber.
Let Cocoons Develop and Bees Emerge
Let cocoons develop and bees emerge in the mason bee house. Not much time passes after placing the cocoons since they are well-developed. All that is required is a little final development and the adult mason bees emerge. They use their mouths to cut the cocoon wall and then crawl out of it. Warm temperatures speed up development of the pupa in the cocoon into an adult. You can ensure warm temperatures by insulating your mason bee house, having it warmed by the sun and by ensuring you release mason bee cocoons in spring season.
It is important that this event of emerging from cocoons takes place in the mason bee house. Adult mason bees make their nests near or around the place where they emerged. They seek out hollow cavities and build their nests in them. If the mason bees emerge while cocoons are in any other place except the mason bee house, then the bees will make their nests in the wrong place. Moving them is difficult because they are driven by instinct.
What do Mason Bees do After Emerging from Cocoons?
Adult mason bees that emerge from cocoons will immediately mate. One female mason bee can mate with several males. The male bees die off soon after mating. Females persist and immediately start making nests. They collect mud and use it to make cell chambers. In each cell, they place some pollen and nectar. They then lay a single egg in the cell and continue placing pollen and nectar in the cell as they gradually seal up the cell using more mud.
Mason bee nesting cells share walls, such that the front wall of one cell is the back wall of the next cell. In nesting tubes, these cells are in a series arrangement with the oldest cell at the rear end of the nesting tube. Making cells, filling them with pollen and nectar, and laying eggs make a continuous cycle for adult mason bees until they die off in summer.
In the mason bee cell, the egg hatches and a larva is released. The larva eats pollen and nectar stored in the cell. It then spins a cocoon around itself and enters the pupa stage in autumn. Cocoons with the pupa go through winter and undergo slow development. In spring, they finish development and adult mason bees emerge. The ratio of males to females in any emerging mason bee generation is roughly 1:1. Adult mason bees cannot survive winter and generally die in late autumn or early winter.
Remove in Summer
In summer, mason bees will have finished most of their nest-building activities. They also start dying off. Mason beekeeping requires careful management of the process to achieve best results. With female mason bees having finished building nests and laying eggs, hatching eggs release larvae that are a prime source of protein for many predatory insects, birds and small animals. They are at risk of being eaten if the mason bee nest is discovered and accessed by a predator.
Female mason bees provide some protection for their nests because they can sting intruders. With their death in summer, the nest is left unprotected. You should take the role of protection upon yourself and remove the mason bee house from the open spaces where it is at risk. Put the mason bee house some place where it is safe and secure. The space should be warm enough for development to continue and aerated so that the larvae have oxygen.
Plant materials for nesting of mason bees allow aeration and oxygen exchange takes place through the mud lining mason bee cells. Materials from plants also have a wicking effect and play a role in regulating the humidity around mason bee cells.
Throughout summer and autumn, the activities of mason bees shift to inside the cell, with eggs hatching, the larva eating up food stored in the cell and then transforming into a pupa with a cocoon around it. Removing the mason bee house in summer ensures security for these important development processes to take place uninterrupted.
Harvest and Store Cocoons in Autumn
Best practices in mason beekeeping need you to harvest and store cocoons in autumn. Viable mason bee cocoons are full, oval in shape and grey-brown in color. Cocoons that are indented, light colored or open are not viable. The viable cocoons contain pupating mason bees. Pupae develop to nearly adult stage in autumn. They then go through winter in pupa stage and undergo minimal development because of the low temperatures of winter.
- Very low temperatures in winter cause pupa to freeze to death. Such pupae do not resume development when ambient temperatures rise in spring. They do not contribute to the next generation of mason bees that you will use in plant pollination.
- Avoid such losses by harvesting and storing cocoons in autumn. By controlling the storage environment of the cocoons, you are able to guarantee they remain viable.
Harvesting mason bee cocoons also gives you an opportunity to determine if you may sell off some cocoons to make money in your mason beekeeping operation. If you have more cocoons than you need, you may gift some to beginner or experienced mason beekeepers. Through harvesting and storing mason bee cocoons, you also get a chance to control pests, parasites and diseases of mason bees.
The process of harvesting cocoons of mason bees is simple. It involves opening up nesting tubes and extracting cocoons from individual cells. Each cell will hold one cocoon. Opening up nesting tubes follows a process dependent on the type of tubes you used.
- Wooden trays are the easiest to open up. They are designed to be reusable, so do not throw them away after harvesting.
- Nesting tubes made from natural reeds may require you to split up the reeds. Such tubes are not suitable for use with mason bees again.
- Cardboard nesting tubes are torn up so that you access cocoons. Such nesting tubes cannot be reused after being torn open.
To reuse both cardboard and natural reed nesting tubes, use thin paper inserts in the nesting tubes. Harvesting cocoons from nesting tubes that have paper inserts in them is easy. It involves sliding out the paper insert. Your mason bee cocoons are in the paper insert. Tear up the disposable paper insert to access the mason bee cocoons in respective nesting tube inserts.
During harvesting mason bee cocoons, handle them with care. Do not press or squash them. Any damage they incur has an effect on their viability. Keep in mind that mason bee cocoons in nature are not harvested but remain in place, protected from handling and other destructive forces until adults emerge from their cocoons.
Hold harvested cocoons in a suitable wooden, plastic or metallic container. You may line the container with some paper towels. Harvesting and storage are not final for mason bee cocoons. Make sure to check on the cocoons at regular intervals. Address any cocoons that you find to be damages, showing signs of unviability or having fungi growing on their surfaces.
As you harvest mason bee cocoons, remove some of the caked mud from their surface. Do not try too hard and squash the cocoons. Mud that remains of the cocoons comes off in later stages of cleaning the cocoons. Use sand, water or bleach solution to clean cocoons. If the cocoons have a lot of mud on them, use some sand. Cleaning cocoons using sand also removes fungi growing on them. A bleach solution sterilizes mason bee cocoons. It kills any microorganisms that may be present on the surface of the cocoons.
- If your cocoons are healthy there is no need to expose them to bleach or the scouring effect of sand. Soak and lightly agitate them in clean water for about 5-10 minutes to remove most or all of the mud from their surface and then dry them off.
- During cleaning, you are able to further identify viable cocoons and those that you should discard. Healthy mason bee cocoons float in water.
- After cleaning, using sand or bleach solution, rinse mason bee cocoons with lots of clean water. Make sure no sand or bleach remains on cocoon surfaces.
Dry off your clean mason bee cocoons using paper towels. You should then place the cocoons on dry paper towels and let them air-dry for about one (1) hour with enough aeration around them. Do not expose them to direct sunlight or warm them to speed up the drying process. Once they are dry enough, wrap them in a dry paper towel and take them to storage.
Storage Mason Bee Cocoons
Through winter, you are responsible for the mason bee cocoons you harvested and cleaned. You should therefore ensure that they remain viable by storing them in the right conditions. Control the environment around stored cocoons for best results. In storage, the cocoons should have slowed development of the pupae inside them, but not a total halt of development. Equally development should not be accelerated during storage. Main factors that determine how well you store mason bee cocoons are temperature, humidity and airflow.
A temperature range of between 37-39 0F (2.78-3.89 0C) is the best for mason bee cocoon storage. Ensure that the cocoons remain at this temperature at all times. Storing mason bee cocoons at temperature ranges outside this will result in poor development, too much development or death of the pupae in their cocoons.
Any cooled space available to you and whose temperature range you can successfully control to remain within the required 37-39 0F (2.78-3.89 0C) is alright for use. Many mason beekeepers store their cocoons in the vegetable bins of their refrigerators.
60-70% humidity is best for mason bee cocoons in storage to remain viable. The stored mason bee cocoons should not dry out or get too humidified. If they dry out, the mason bee pupa dies. If they get too humid and damp, fungi often start growing on them.
A wet paper towel in the same storage space as the stored mason bee cocoons provides enough humidity. The paper towel should not be in contact with the cocoons, and it should not be dripping wet.
Aerating Mason Bee Cocoons in Storage
Circulation of air around the cocoons is necessary in storage. Oxygen should get to the pupae in cocoons. Without oxygen, the pupae die. The surface of cocoons allows enough oxygen exchange for the pupating mason bees. In nature, mud and plant material allows oxygen exchange. Therefore, you should ensure that your cocoons get enough fresh air in storage.
Wrapping the cocoons in a paper towel allows air to reach the surface of cocoons where oxygen exchange takes place. Proper aeration of the space in which you are storing mason bee cocoons contributes to humidity control too.
What to do in Winter?
Winter is a slow time for both mason bees and their keepers. There is not much happening in the lives of mason bees during this cold season. In the cocoon, the pupating mason be undergoes slow development as it waits for spring.
For the mason beekeeper, cocoons are in storage and only require periodic inspections at regular intervals. This frees you up to do other things that are useful for your mason beekeeping operation. They include cleaning equipment and preparing for the next mason beekeeping season.
1. Clean the Mason Bee House
Use your free time in winter to clean up the mason bee house. Make sure that there are no animals or insects that make their home in the mason bee house in winter. Use water or chemical components as needed to control pests, parasites and diseases of mason bees during your cleaning of the mason bee house.
2. Clean Nesting Tubes
Clean mason bee nesting tubes using appropriate methods and tools. Wood trays for mason bee nesting are the easiest to take apart and clean. They are designed to be reusable, so they incorporate in them features that make disassembly and cleaning easy. During cleaning, remove mud caked onto the inner or outer sides of nesting tubes and any other materials you find in the nesting tubes.
Reusable reeds and cardboard nesting tubes that you used with thin paper nesting inserts do not have any mud on their inner surfaces. Therefore, they do not need cleaning. If there is any mud on their outer surfaces, gently scrape it off using an appropriate tool.
3. Inspect and Repair House as Necessary
Take some time to inspect and repair the mason bee house as necessary. Check for damage and weaknesses in the structure of the house. Repair or replace damaged parts and address weaknesses you find on the house. Ensure that the mason bee house is ready for its next use.
4. Inspect and Maintain Stored Cocoons
Regularly check on stored cocoons. Provide them with the right environmental condition so that they remain viable. If you find any problems with the cocoons, adjust the environment to make it more suitable for the cocoons. It is alright to wash cocoons again if you find them with fungi growing on them in storage.
5. Make Purchases
Make purchased of tools, equipment, cocoons and other inputs you need for your mason beekeeping operation. By making the purchases in winter, you have enough time to get familiar with the use and operation of these inputs. You also have enough time to ask for replacements if purchased items are faulty, of the wrong size or not working well with other equipment you already have.
6. Research and Read Up
Grab a book or two about mason beekeeping and read up in winter. You may also utilize websites and other online sources of educational material about mason bees. Researching and reading about mason bees arms you with useful knowledge to use in mason beekeeping. Apply this knowledge in your mason beekeeping operation for best results.
Over time, the reading and researching make you a better mason beekeeper. You are able to meet targets and achieve your goals in mason beekeeping due to this continuous improvement.
Purchasing Mason Bees
There are many ways to acquire some mason bees including purchasing them, getting gifted and going natural. Purchasing mason bees in form of cocoons is the most reliable method. Go for reputable mason beekeeping suppliers so that you get best quality mason bees. Crown Bees is one such reputable supplier. The company has shown consistency over many years and grown to be an authoritative source of information in solitary beekeeping.
Purchasing mason bees from Crown Bees is one of the best things you can do for your mason beekeeping operation. It gives you healthy mason bee cocoons for your bee house. The cocoons are shipped to you on time and come in a good mix of male and female bee cocoons. In your purchase package, you get twenty (20) cocoons. In a ratio mimicking natural mason bee populations, eight (8) of the cocoons are female and the other twelve (12) are male.
Whatever method you use, be sure to get healthy mason bees so that you get the best benefits from mason beekeeping. Mason bees work well when you propagate them in form of cocoons. The adult bees that emerge from the cocoons make nests near or around where they emerge. Beekeepers therefore place cocoons in the mason bee house they intend to use.
Beekeeping involving mason bees is an interesting activity. It rewards you with both monetary benefits and you get best pollination for your plants. The management practices required in mason beekeeping are not too difficult. Both beginner and experienced beekeepers can run successful mason beekeeping operations. Even then, you need to know the concepts behind mason beekeeping, such as the lifecycle of mason bees. You are then able to achieve great results in your mason beekeeping operation and can even show other beekeepers how to raise mason bees. Use the information in this guide to better your mason beekeeping and keep healthy populations of mason bees.
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