The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Mason Bees

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Keeping mason bees is important to many people because of its function in plant pollination. This ultimate guide to keeping mason bees takes you through various practices for best result. Some bits of it are also applicable in leafcutter beekeeping. Both mason and leafcutter bees are native and solitary. They do not form colonies but instead make nests in hollow cavities. Their lifecycle is very unique and dependent on the seasons of the year. Each year, the old generation of mason bees dies so that there is new generation the following year. In this guide, you will get useful information about many things including the lifecycle of mason bees, how they make nests, setting up a mason bee house and harvesting cocoons.

For more tips on keeping mason bees, be sure to check out Crown Bees, a highly reputed company specializing in mason and wild bees in the United States.

Where to Get Mason Bees

Starting a mason beekeeping operation or adding numbers to your current mason bee population, requires you to source for additional mason bee cocoons. Do not worry if you have no idea of where to get mason bees. There are several sources and options you can easily utilize, one of being Crown Bees.

How are Mason Bees Propagated?

Mason bees are not sold in their adult stage because of their lifestyle and how they choose nesting spaces. They seek out and use natural cavities near and around the place where they emerge from their cocoons. Additionally, mason bees are solitary, unlike honey bees. Getting enough of them to start a new population elsewhere and get them to take to the new location can be difficult.

Due to these reasons, mason bees are propagated through cocoons. The mason beekeeper receives the cocoons with a nearly-developed mason bee in them and puts them where they have prepared a mason bee house. Bees emerging from the cocoons make their nest in the bee house so that thy beekeeper now has a population of mason bees that they can use for many years.

  • If you cannot find a local source near you, you can always look to well established companies that specialize in helping beekeepers take up mason beekeeping.
  • Cocoons from such sellers are guaranteed to be free of pests, diseases and parasites of mason bees.
  • One such seller is Crown Bees. The company has established itself as a reliable seller of mason beekeeping equipment and related supplies over the years. Since its founding, it has consistently provided reliable solutions to mason beekeepers.

For their health and reliability, buy Crown Bees Mason Bee Cocoons for your starter population. You receive a package of twenty (20) mason bee cocoons. In the package, eight (8) cocoons release female mason bees and the other twelve (12) cocoons release male mason bees. All your Crown Bees purchase orders ship on time and in protective packaging. Crown Bees has many years of experience and knowledge from research it applies to provide you with the best solutions for your mason beekeeping operation.

Other Sources Where you can Get Mason Bees

Beekeepers that already have mason bees can sell or gift you with some mason bee cocoons to use in starting your own mason bee population. Once you intend to keep mason bees, it is great to seek out fellow mason beekeepers.

In their circles, many are ready to help you with a few mason bee cocoons to start your operation. The cocoons release adults in your mason bee house and you can then develop the population over time to the numbers you want. You can also use attractant to speed up the population increase of mason bees in your operation.

Another way to get mason bees, is by setting up a mason bee house and placing it at a suitable location, then hoping that some mason bees will find it and make their nests in it. You may use mason bee attractant to improve the chances of getting mason bees into the house. Spray the inside of the house and tips of nesting tubes with some mason bee attractant.

If you get a few mason bees to make a nest in the mason bee house, you can nurture the population until it reaches the size you want. Use mason bee attractant in successive years to bring more mason bees to your mason bee house. It improves the genetics of your stock.

How to Set Up a Mason Bee House

Keeping Mason Bees in an Insect Hotel

After you have acquired mason bee cocoons, it is time to set up a habitat for them. The place where they will be staying and making their nest is a mason bee house. Other references may call the habitat a mason bee chalet or bee cabin. Mason bee houses come in varying sizes and designs. Construction of the houses makes use of wood as the primary material. Other materials used may include screws and nails in assembling the bee house. Using best quality wood in making the mason bee house ensures that it is durable and effective at its work.

Setting up a mason bee house involves constructing it, preparing it for use, locating it appropriately and even sheltering it from extreme weather elements.  Typically, a roof on the mason bee house will prevent rainwater and snow from entering the house. Additional sheltering is good for the house so that snow does not fall on the house itself. The shelter over the house can be simple. It also helps prevent strong sunlight striking the mason bee house such as at midday. Hot sun hitting the mason bee house can cause some mason bees to die at any stage of their lifecycle.

Build your mason bee house with enough space for the nesting tubes you intend to use. You may partition it into several compartments. Include a cocoon drawer space if you can. If you are buying one that is already constructed and assembled, and your budget allows it, purchase one with these partitions and the cocoon drawer. The cocoon drawer in a mason bee house makes the process of mason bee propagation easy for you and safe for the cocoons. It prevents predators from reaching cocoons by keeping the cocoons out of the open space of the mason bee house.

Preparing a Mason Bee House

Prepare your mason bee house for use so that it is ready to receive mason bees. This can be a one-time activity or continuous. Initially, you should clean the mason bee house and inspect it for structural integrity. Additionally, remove any other insects that may have made a home in the house, such as spiders and moths.

Check that the mason bee house is firm and that joints are strong enough. Ensure operable and sliding components are working well. In this step of preparation, you should also check for features such as keyholes and eyelets that make installation of the bee house easy. If there are no features on your mason bee house for installation, add them so that you have an easy time working with the bee house.

You might want to attract more mason bees to your bee house. More mason bees will give you greater genetic diversity in your mason bee population. They also pollinate your crops better due to their higher number.

Additionally, having a large population of mason bees in the bee house ensures you have enough cocoons to start the next mason bee season with. You might even have more cocoons that you need and be able to sell them off to make some money. To get more mason bee into your bee house, use some attractant on the walls of the bee house. It is best that you apply the attractant when there are mason bees in the environment, so the attractant does not go to waste.

When to Install a Mason Bee House

Mason Bee Nest

Timely preparations in keeping mason bees ensure you get best results. This includes the best time to install your mason bee house. Late installation costs you valuable time and causes your mason bees to have a late start of their life activities. On the other hand, installing the house too early exposes it to undesirable weather elements that may damage it.

It is best to install your mason bee house in spring. You may do this in late winter too, when the temperatures have started rising and reached acceptable levels. It makes your mason bees to develop in synchrony with the environment and have an early start in spring.

After installing the mason bee house, it is alright to place cocoons in it. Put the cocoons in a safe place in the house such as the cocoon drawer in professionally made mason bee houses. The cocoons should not be at risk of getting wet, getting too dry, or being accessed by predators.

If you cannot guarantee the safety of the cocoons, then it is best to wait until you are sure that they will be safe before placing them in the bee house. Security for cocoons is easy to ensure by using a mesh, if your bee house does not have a cocoons drawer.

Where to Place a Mason Bee House

Proper placement of your mason bee house impacts production, pollination and other benefits you get from keeping mason bees. It is easy to place the bee house in a suitable location and have success with raising a mason bee population in it. However, there are various factors to consider when placing a mason bee house.

It is understandable that you might not be able to fully meet all the requirements for perfect location. Even then, do your best to place the mason bee house in a location where it satisfies most of the requirements. Use the following tips for best location of your mason bee house:

1. Security

Consider security for the bee house. Thieves and large animals that can damage the bee house should not be able to access the house. Stolen bee houses are losses that you should not incur when keeping mason bees. Placing the bee house under the eaves of a house at reasonable height is great to ensure it is not easy to reach. A pole or other elevating structure can also be used to keep the bee house out of easy reach by people and animals.

2. Orientation

Directional orientation of the mason bee house is a critical factor. Recommendations by experienced beekeepers suggest that you should have your mason bee house facing south or a south easterly direction. This is important so that the sun hits the house early in the morning. It warms the house and mason bees within it so they get active early in the day and remain active for many hours every day. Mason bees that start their day early are able to collect more pollen and nesting materials for their life processes. They also pollinate many more crops in your garden or farm.

3. Resources for Mason Bees

Forage for the mason bees should be nearby. When choosing where to place a mason bee house, be sure to consider the mason bees’ needs for nutrition. You should have a bee-friendly garden near the mason bee house. It saves the bees long trips to collect some materials for their basic needs such as mud for making cells. The garden should also have some plants that mason bees will use for pollen and nectar for their food. They will get the rest of the pollen they need and nectar from the crops you want them to pollinate for you.

Plants in your bee-friendly garden are best if they produce blossoms early in spring. They provide the primary source of nutrition for mason bees before other plants produce blossoms.

4. Proximity to Target Plants

Locate the house near plants you want pollinated. This is important for mason beekeepers using the bees to pollinate gardens, orchards and farms. It is best to place your mason house close to the plants you want them to work on. Having the mason bees far from your plants can result in poor pollination of the crops you are targeting.

Dealing with Pests and Parasites

Mason bees have a number of pests and parasites that affect them in various ways. These are often other insects from the same family of solitary bees and others from other families of insects. Some pests and parasites of mason bees use similar methods to affect mason bees while others have their unique methods. These pests and parasites often cause death of mason bee eggs, larvae, or pupa. They do not affect adult mason bees by much.

One way that pests and parasites of mason bees use to affect them is through sucking on the body fluid of larvae or adults. It weakens the mason bee and makes it not able to perform various functions. These pests and parasites that use this method are not many.

Some pests of mason bees interfere with the lifecycle of mason bees. They lay their eggs in the cell prepared by a mason bee before it is sealed up. Some pests kill the egg laid by the mason bee while others do not. Usually, even where the mason bee egg in the affected cell is left intact, the egg of the pest hatches first. The pest larva eats up pollen and nectar in the cell. When the mason bee egg hatches, the mason bee larvae finds it has little or no food to eat in its cell. It dies off. The pest larva undergoes all development stages to adult stage.

Prevention and Control of Mason Bee Pests and Parasites

Prevent infestations by pests and parasites on your mason bees by maintaining hygienic conditions in the bee house. When the mason bee house is not in use, clean it thoroughly using clean water. To keep the scent the previous nesting in the mason bee house, do not use any detergent or chemical compound in cleaning the mason bee house.

If you have had a pest or parasite infestation in the mason bee house, you should use compounds such as bleach in cleaning the bee house. The compound you use should kill off the pests and parasites but not harm mason bees that will later on make their nest in the mason bee house.

Cleaning mason bee cocoons is the second measure you should take to control pests and parasites. Some pests and parasites stay on the surface of the cocoon and wait for the adult mason bee to emerge. As it leaves the cocoon, these pests and parasites come into contact with the mason bee and climb onto its body. From there, they affect the bee in various ways. Some eventually find their way into the nest made by the mason bee.

Break the chain of transmission of these pests and parasites by washing mason bee cocoons with some sand. A little bleach also helps. You can use a hybrid method that incorporates both bleach and sand to ensure no harmful pest or parasite is on the cocoons you will use to start a mason bee population.

Dealing with Predators of Mason Bees

There are predators which attack mason bees and their nests. Birds and small animals such as rodents make up the bulk of these predators. They eat mason bees in their larva, pupa or adult stages. Birds often eat adult mason bees while rodents open up the nest to access larvae and pupa. Mason bees are not aggressive and rarely sting unless they are under attack. Their stinger is not developed for tough defensive work, and so it does not deter predators that are determined to predate on the bees. Additionally, mason bees are solitary bees, so they cannot draw on support from other bees in the same nesting area.

Birds Preying on Mason Bees

Birds are the most destructive predators of mason bees in terms of decimating the adult population. Some birds perch on the mason bee house and wait for returning mason bees. They then use their beaks to catch and kill mason bees before eating the bees. Ina day or two, a pair of birds can kill off your entire population of adult mason bees if unchecked.

Dealing with the avian predators of mason bees is easy. All you need to do is have a mesh over the front of the mason bee house. A measuring with holes of ¾ inches squared is great because it allows mason bees access through it easily.

Birds cannot reach the nests of mason bees, or mason bees themselves through such a mesh. Even their beaks have a difficult time reaching mason bees through such a mesh. The mesh protects your mason bees adequately from birds that want to predate on them and cost you our mason bee population.

Additionally, you may use placement of your mason bee house as a deterrent to predatory birds. Place the bee house under a cover that makes it difficult for the birds to perch onto the bee house.

Animal and Rodent Predators of Mason Bees

Small animals such as rodents are the other significant predators of mason bees. They eat larvae and pupa of mason bees in the nests. They require to have accessed the mason bee house and nest to do this. Denying them access to the nest and also the mason bee house solves the problem with predatory animals. Typically, placing your mason bee house at a suitable height off the ground is sufficient. You may install rodent guards on supporting poles and other structures to ensure that rodents and other small animals cannot reach the mason bee house.

Mason Bee Diseases

Chalkbrood Disease Mummies
Image Credit: Marla_Spivak | ResearchGate

Chalkbrood is the most significant disease affecting mason bees. It is a fungal disease which you easily prevent by ensuring hygiene and proper conditions in your mason beekeeping operation. The disease can infect larvae, pupa or adult mason bees. If it gets into pollen stored in the mason bee nest cells, it makes the pollen unsuitable for feeding on by the larva. Such larva that might eat the spoilt pollen gets infected and dies in its pupa stage. The cocoon remains full of fungal spores and spreads the infection so subsequent generations of mason bees.

Storing cocoons under poor conditions causes them to get infected with Chalkbrood or other fungi. Too much humidity in the storage space creates conditions for fungal growth on the cocoons. The fungi eat through the cocoon and infect the pupa or leave spores on the surface of the cocoon to infect the emerging adult. Both scenarios have negative outcomes for the mason bee because they lead to infection and eventual death of the pupa or adult mason bee. A dead pupa in its cocoon spreads infectious spores to the rest of the nest if the cocoon opens up.

Preventing Mason Bee Diseases

Temperature and humidity control are the major preventive methods you can use to ensure your cocoons are free of fungi. Your mason bee house should allow aeration for humidity control.

Additionally, make sure there is proper humidity in the space where you store harvested mason bee cocoons. Warm temperature conditions coupled with high humidity encourage fungal growth on cocoons.

Hygiene for Mason Bee Disease Control

Washing cocoons is also an important control method to deal with mason bee diseases including Chalkbrood. By washing the cocoons, fungal spores are removed from the surface of the cocoon so they cannot infect the pupa or adult mason bee as it emerges from the cocoon.

Use some bleach solution to ensure that fungal spores are killed off the surface of your cocoons. Carefully prepare the bleach solution to the correct concentration so that it does not harm the pupa in the mason bee cocoons. When washing cocoons using sand, discard the sand and do not use it to wash other cocoons because the sand can spread infection to subsequent sets of cocoons.

Harvesting Cocoons

Harvesting Mason Bee Cocoons

Mason bee cocoons contain the pupating bee in them. They are removed from their nests and processed so that they are ready for use in starting a next generation of mason bees. Removing cocoons from nesting tubes is called harvesting. You can harvest mason bee cocoons to ensure they are safe and well taken care of, and to sell them for income for your beekeeping operation. Harvesting cocoons also enables you to start an additional mason bee nest.

When Should I Harvest Mason Bee Cocoons?

Autumn is the best season to harvest mason bee cocoons. You can wait for mid or late autumn to harvest the cocoons from your mason bee house. Mason bees lay eggs that hatch into larvae and then pupate in cocoons. The cocoons go through winter with a nearly adult mason bee in them. In winter, the development process is slowed down. It continues for a very brief period in early spring and then the adult mason bee leaves the cocoon. This is the reason why mason bees are the native bees that are most suitable for spring pollination.

How Do You Harvest Mason Bee Cocoons?

Harvesting cocoons from mason bee houses starts with your taking apart of wooden trays, or tubes or other primary nesting material you have provided for your mason bees. Some materials are reusable while others are not. Wooden trays are made to be reused. Natural reed tubes are often not easily reusable. Using thin paper inserts in some types of nesting tubes makes them reusable. Access the cocoons inside the nesting tubes and make sure not to damage them in any way. You may put them in a container or wrap them with a breathable cloth made using natural fibers, especially cotton or paper. A paper towel is very suitable for the job.

Benefits of Harvesting Mason Bee Cocoons

Removing cocoons from their nesting tubes is important as a measure of disease, pest and parasite control. Adults emerging from cocoons travel through the tube until they reach the exit. They go through cells that held other mason bees. If one such cell is a diseased cell, it infects the emerging mason bees. Some mason bees may not be able to open their way through several such cells and die in the nesting tube. Cocoons that you harvest are spared from such a fate because you will place them in amazon bee house in a space where they will have an easy time getting out.

Washing and Storing Harvested Mason Bee Cocoons

Carry your mason bee cocoons with care so that you do not damage them. After harvesting mason bee cocoons, proceed to cleaning them and storing them properly. Use bleach to clean cocoons that you suspect or observe to be infected with fungal spores or parasitic organisms. Sand is also good for scouring the sides of cocoons and ensuring they are clean. Mason bee cocoons will often have bits of mud sticking to them, so you might need to soak them in water for a minute or two before cleaning them.

Store the cocoons in a cooled space such as your refrigerator’s vegetable bin. In storage, make sure the cocoons are in a cooled space with proper humidity control so that they do not get too wet or too dry on the surface. Wrapping them in a paper towel in storage is a good idea.

Do not seal cocoons in a container of any type. The pupa in the cocoon is a living organism and needs oxygen for its continued life. Exchange of gases takes place through the surface of the cocoons. Allow aeration of the cocoons so that they do not die from lack of oxygen. A paper towel allows for adequate aeration of the cocoons.

Cleaning Tubes

Clean mason bee nesting tubes at the end of every production cycle. Once you have harvested mason bee cocoons, you have enough time to clean the tubes before you need to use them again. This is important because it contributes to pest, disease and parasite control in mason bees. Nesting tubes can harbor unwanted insects or infectious agents. In the tubes, you also have cocoons that you might have left behind because they are diseases. If they come into contact with the future generation of mason bees, they would infect the bees and cause you losses.

It is safe to use some bleach when cleaning nesting tubes. Other chemical compounds are also permitted if you want to clear the tubes of harmful organisms. After cleaning with any chemical agent, make sure to thoroughly rinse the tubes with clean water. If you do not have any pests, parasites or fungi in the tubes, you do not need to wash them with any chemical agents. Rinsing them out with water to remove caked mud is adequate. It ensures that the tubes retain their nesting scents and pheromones to attract mason bees to make nests in them.

After cleaning tubes, give them ample time to dry. You may place them in sunlight or a heated room to ensure they get properly dry.

Storing Clean Mason Bee Nesting Tubes

Store the tubes in a dry place so that they do not get damp and start having fungi growing in them. Take the tubes out of storage a few days before you place them in a mason bee house and air them out. Popular nesting tubes are natural reed tubes, wooden trays and cardboard pipes. They can be used alone or with nesting inserts in them.

Mason Bee Nesting Inserts

Nesting inserts are one-time-use sheets of thin paper. Using nesting inserts makes harvesting mason bee cocoons easy for you, and they do not require any cleaning since they are discarded after use in one production cycle. Dispose of them carefully and in line with environmental laws in your locale.

Conclusion

Proper practices in keeping mason bees ensure you get the best performance. Crop pollination is a great benefit from in keeping mason bees. Other benefits to mason beekeepers include income from selling cocoons. Beekeepers starting new mason beekeeping operations buy cocoons from various suppliers such as established companies and beekeepers near them. Information, guidance and tips about mason beekeeping should be available to beekeepers so that they keep effective and thriving mason bees. The bees are excellent pollinators and help the dwindling honeybee populations in crop pollination. Use this ultimate guide to mason beekeeping to achieve outstanding results in keeping your mason bees.

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