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Solitary bees are better at plant pollination than honeybees. Here is an exploration of solitary beekeeping and tips for success with mason and leafcutter bees. Mason bees get their name from using mud to build their nests. Leafcutter bees use bits of leaves to build their nests. They are unlike honeybees that live in a colony, and use wax among other materials such as propolis to make their habitat. Honeybees also produce honey and other beehive products. Strong jaws and large lips on mason and leafcutter bees are suitable for collecting materials for building nests. This article looks at best practices to help you with keeping, with a focus on mason and leafcutter bees. Use these tips for success with mason and leafcutter bees and enjoy great pollination for your plants.
For more tips on raising mason and leafcutter bees, be sure to check out Crown Bees, a highly reputed company specializing in mason and wild bees in the United States.
About Mason and Leafcutter Bees
Both mason and leafcutter bees come from the same family of insects called Megachilidae. Their genus is called There are other types of solitary bees, each named by their characteristics in nest building or obtaining nutrition.
Mason bees and leafcutter bees feed on pollen and nectar. They move through the flowers of plants in a swimming-like motion. This motion is very energetic and causes release of a lot of pollen. It is what makes them better at plant pollination than honeybees.
Solitary bees such as mason and leafcutter bees do not produce honey, wax and other beehive products like honeybees. Keeping them is solely for their plant pollination activities. Mason and leafcutter bees have structures for carrying pollen on their abdomens. Other bee families have the structures on their hind legs.
Solitary Bees’ Lifecycle
Mason and leafcutter bees have a very similar lifecycle. There are various stages typical of an insect lifecycle which are an egg stage, larvae, pupa and adult stages. With mason bees, adult bees emerge in spring. Adult leafcutter bees emerge in summer. Once the adult is out of its cocoon, it starts building a nest near where it emerged. Mating follows soon after emerging from cocoons.
A single female mason or leafcutter bee can mate with several males of its species. Males die soon after mating, whereas females live on for many more weeks as they build nests and lay eggs. Nests of mason and leafcutter bees are usually built in a linear pattern within natural or artificial cavities. They prefer hollow plant stems. Females die off in winter, so each year there is a new generation of mason and leafcutter bees.
After mating, females go about collecting pollen and nectar. They store it in a walled cell. Once stocks of food in the cell are enough, they lay an egg in the cell. Sealing up the cell follows. The front wall of each cell forms the rear wall of the next cell. This process of collecting pollen and nectar, and then laying an egg followed by sealing up the cell goes on for the entire time the female mason or leafcutter bee is alive.
In a cell, an egg hatches and the larva eats up the food stored in the cell. As it feeds on pollen, the larva molts several times. It then spins a cocoon around itself and enters the pupa stage. After weeks of developing and overwintering, the pupa emerges from the cocoon as an adult bee to continue the lifecycle.
Tips Successful Mason and Leafcutter Beekeeping
In keeping mason and leafcutter bees, the beekeeper should provide a habitat for the solitary bees. You may also provide some foraging grounds for the bees to ensure they do not lack food or materials with which to build their nests. The beekeeper chooses whether to harvest cocoons or leave them in place over winter. Harvesting solitary bee cocoons, washing and storing them over winter ensures you have healthy adults emerging from the cocoons and contributes to controlling diseases, pests and parasites of the solitary bees.
1. Provide a Bee Friendly Garden
Many factors affect your success with mason and leafcutter bees. They include nutrition, environmental conditions, availability of nesting materials and security among others. Control these factors to make sure that your mason and leafcutter beekeeping is fruitful. Take the primary area in which you have your mason and leafcutter bee houses as your bee garden. Ensure that the space near and around the bee garden meets the factors that contribute to making it a bee-friendly garden. Your bee garden space can be small, or large depending on the number, location and distribution of mason and leafcutter bee houses.
2. Ensure Security
Security for your mason and leafcutter bees determines how well they will perform in establishing a nest, maintaining the nest and carrying out pollination of your target plants. It also impacts on your ability to continue keeping mason and leafcutter bees. Stolen or damaged bee houses are of no help in your mason and leafcutter beekeeping. Therefore, the first factor of security you should ensure for your mason and leafcutter bees is that their habitat is not interfered with by humans or predators.
The location of each bee house is important in determining how secure it is. Place bee houses for mason and leafcutter bees where they are not easily accessible by other people and predators. You can also add security features such as a half (½) – inch mesh at the front to keep out predators such as birds. The ½ – inch mesh allows mason and leafcutter bees to easily access their nests whereas birds cannot pass through the mesh. Smaller meshes present problems to your solitary bees, while larger mesh sizes do not prevent predators from accessing the mason and leafcutter bee nests.
Additionally, in deciding the location of your solitary bee houses, consider human and animal traffic in the area. Do not locate the houses for your mason and leafcutter bees in areas where there are paths for people and animals. Such traffic agitates solitary bees and can cause them to turn aggressive. They also get stressed and it negatively affects their ability to build nests and pollinate plants for you.
Bee House Structural Integrity
Structural integrity of your bee house also contributes to security. Take it upon yourself to make sure that all your houses for solitary bees are in their best condition. They should not allow pests, parasites and predators entry into the house through the sides or seams. Repair damaged bee houses and those whose condition has deteriorated. Use only the best quality solitary bee houses in your bee garden.
3. Provide Water
Living things require water as part of their nutrition. Beekeepers of mason and leafcutter bees should not forget to provide this life-giving fluid to their solitary bees. A simple watering apparatus suffices. It does not need to have a lot of water in it, since the water requirements of these bees are not high. Solitary bees use water for various purposes including drinking it, using it to make mud in the case of mason bees, and to cool themselves among other uses.
Provide water using a container that can hold a reasonable amount so that you do not have to refill the container too frequently. Additionally, make sure that the watering point does not cause death of your mason and leafcutter bees by drowning. To prevent drowning, use specially designed watering vessels or place floaters such as dry sticks in the water. The solitary bees land on the floating sticks and then access the water. They easily fly off from the floaters since their wings do not get wet.
4. Time the Release of Bees
Solitary bees are affected by the seasons of the year. Mason bees leave their cocoons in spring, whereas leafcutter bees exit their cocoons in summer. The bees then make a nest in or near the place where they emerge from the cocoons. It is therefore important to ensure that your bees are released at the appropriate time, in the right place. This involves timely placement of cocoons, in the appropriate mason or leafcutter bee house.
Early placement such as in winter will most often lead to death of all your bees in their cocoons. It causes bees to emerge too early and do not find suitable forage. Thereby, make sure that there are enough flowers of the right plants in the bee garden before placing cocoons. When your bees emerge, they will find ample source of food for themselves and for placing in cells.
5. Harvesting, Cleaning and Storing Cocoons
Cocoons of mason and leafcutter bees contain a developing bee in them. By the time you harvest the cocoon, the bee inside it will have developed up to some point. When you place the cocoon back into the bee house, development of the bee in the cocoon resumes until its proper end, and then the adult bee leaves the cocoon.
For this reason, harvest cocoons when you are sure that there has been enough development of the bee inside the cocoon. Harvesting the cocoon too early causes delayed release of bees. This is because they take time to finish development after you have placed them in the bee house.
- Into your planning, factor in that the final development of mason bee cocoons takes place in late autumn. In winter, there is little development. The bees then emerge in spring.
- For leafcutter bees, some development takes place in autumn and then slows down to a near-halt over winter. Growth then resumes in spring. Adult leafcutter bees emerge from cocoons in summer.
After you have harvested cocoons of solitary bees, clean and store them well. Control the storage temperature and humidity carefully so that the cocoons remain viable with a live bee in each cocoon. Storing the cocoons in very low temperatures halts growth of the bee in the cocoon or kills it. On the other hand, storing cocoons in high temperatures accelerates growth or kills the pupating solitary bee.
6. Buying Bees
When you do not have your preferred solitary bee cocoons, acquire them on time. You may buy from reliable suppliers such as Crown Bees or be gifted some by a solitary bee beekeeper. Having your cocoons on time ensures you are ready to start raising the solitary bees in the appropriate season. As you make purchases, consider the time it will take for the package to arrive.
Buying mason bee cocoons is best in winter. You may buy leafcutter cocoons in spring. In the same manner, ensure that by the end of winter, you have all the equipment, tools and other requirements you will need to set up a mason beekeeping operation. For a leafcutter beekeeping operation, be sure to have all that you will need before the end of spring.
7. Have Native Flowering Plants
Mason and leafcutter bees need flowering plants for various uses. They eat pollen and drink nectar from the flowers of plants. Adult females also collect pollen and nectar to store in cells for larvae to eat when eggs hatch. Native flowering plants are best for this purpose. They have the pollen which mason and leafcutter bees love.
You do not need to have too many of these flowering plants in your garden or farm. It is alright to have just a few that will provide an environment that feels natural to the mason and leafcutter bees. You can have them along the edges of the garden or farm. The flowering plants can also serve as part of your fence. Native flowering plants do not interfere with the yields of your food crops.
Native flowering plants you can use in your garden or farm for mason and leafcutter bees include: wildflowers of various kinds, vegetables, fruits and other crops. Many beekeepers that have had success with mason and leafcutter bees use roses, ash, azalea, bougainvillea, redbud and other plants as their natural native flowering plants. The plants have thin leaves with a smooth surface.
8. Provide Sources of Nesting Materials
Provide your mason and leafcutter bees with an appropriate source of nesting materials. The source should be close to the location of your bee house. It saves them time that they would otherwise spend flying long distances to get nesting materials. Each type of bee has its special nesting material that it uses to make and seal up nest cells. Mason bees use mud to make nests and seal cells. They get their name from this behavior. Leafcutter bees use pieces of leaves to make their nests and seal up cells. They are also named by this behavior.
9. Provide a Mud Source (Mason Bees)
A source of mud is important when you are rearing mason bees. They use the mud to make cells and seal them in the nest. Mud of most types will suffice. It should have fine grains of soil and no sand in it. Clay and loam soils are easily accepted by mason bees. These are the soils often found in agricultural land, so you should not have much trouble locating, harvesting and transporting some to a place that is near you mason bee house. Dry soil of the appropriate type is also acceptable to mason bees. They wet it with their saliva to the right composition and then carry it off to the nest.
There are commercially available mud packages you can buy to use with your mason bees. Mud in these packages can come already mixed with water or in form of soil that you will have to add water to. You may place your mud or soil close to the watering container you have for your mason bees to make everything easier for the bees.
10. Provide a Leaf Source (Leafcutter Bees)
Leafcutter bees use pieces of leaves to make their nests and seal up cells. They cut off small pieces using their strong jaws and carry the pieces to their nesting site. Pieces of leaves can be oval, circular or other shapes depending on where it is cut from. Under normal circumstances, leafcutter bees go for leaves that are thin and have a smooth surface. They also show preference to leaves of some legumes.
Provide a leaf source to your leafcutter bees. The source should be near the nesting areas of your leafcutters so that they do not need to fly long distances to reach suitable leaves. It saves time that is then used on other useful activities such as collecting pollen to provision nest cells.
11. Provide Proper Housing
Solitary bees are of various types and utilize varying materials to make their nests. Mason and leafcutter bees use mud and pieces of leaves respectively. For their nests, they seek out and utilize cavities and holes near and around where they leave their cocoons. Tubular cavities and spaces with a round cross-section are the first choice for mason and leafcutter bees. Both bee species make cells in a series along the tubular cavity, starting from one end towards an entrance they constantly use. Adult bees emerging from cocoons chew through the mud or leaves respectively, to reach the entrance of the cavity.
Provide proper housing for success with mason and leafcutter bees. The bees work well with wood and other plant material as the base of their nests. They then bring in nesting material sources from the environment to make the nest suitable for their purposes. Mason bees will use mud for their nests while leafcutter bees use pieces of leaves. Leafcutters sometimes chew through all or part of the pieces of leaves to make a pulp that helps seal up each cell.
Best Bee Houses
Suppliers of solitary beekeeping equipment have great bee houses on offer. They make the houses to industry standards and using high quality materials. Mason and leafcutter bees do not nest in the ground. They always make their nests in hollow cavities on plants or other suitable materials.
Bee houses for mason and leafcutter bees are major equipment in solitary beekeeping. They are the superstructure into which mason and leafcutter beekeepers insert secondary nesting provisions. Bee houses for your leafcutter and mason bees should meet the following requirements:
1. Water should not be able to enter the house
Solitary bees require a dry environment with the proper humidity for their nests. Water entering the bee house damages cells, affects humidity and temperature, and leads to fungi growing on cocoons, in cells or on pollen. Sloping roofs on solitary bee houses are great for waterproofing the houses.
2. Allow some sunlight to hit the house in the morning
Sunlight hitting the house in the morning warms the house and causes your solitary bees to get active early in the day. It makes your bees have more active hours per day. This requirement is easily met by having one open side on your bee house and locating it facing a southerly direction. You may take steps to ensure the house is not hit by the hot midday sun and heated to too high temperatures.
3. Aeration within the bee house
This is necessary since the bees, their larvae and pupa are living organisms. They need oxygen for their survival and release carbon dioxide to the environment. Even then, you should shelter the bee house from strong winds for success with mason and leafcutter bees.
4. Construction of the house should make use of appropriate materials.
Wood and other plant products are the best for solitary bee houses. Wood allows air exchange with ease and wicks away moisture, thereby assisting in humidity control. Ensure that the solitary bee house is well assembled so that it has structural integrity and provides security for your solitary bees. You may partition your bee house into two or more partitions to make rearing of more than one solitary bee species in the same house manageable.
12. Provide Primary Nesting Tubes
Provide nesting tubes made from appropriate materials in your solitary bee house. The nesting tubes should be hollow and long enough for the bees to make several cells in each tube. Popular materials for making solitary bee nesting tubes are plant-based such as cardboard and paper. Natural reeds are also a favorite of many solitary beekeepers. Use bundles tubes of varying lengths so that they form an irregular pattern at the entrance of your solitary bee house. An irregular pattern helps solitary bees to easily find their respective nesting tubes.
You may use nesting inserts in your primary nesting tubes. These are thin paper tubes that you slide into and out of the primary nesting tubes. Nesting inserts for solitary bees make harvesting of cocoons easy. Additionally, nesting inserts for mason and leafcutter beekeeping facilitate reuse of your primary nesting tubes. They thereby save you money while making your beekeeping operation more enjoyable.
Mason and leafcutter bees are above-ground nesters. They are easily attracted to artificial cavities. This makes them easy to keep. Habitats provided by beekeepers for mason and leafcutter bees include hollow stems, natural reeds, blocks of wood with holes drilled in them and tubes among others. Mason and leafcutter bees are the most commonly kept solitary bees. They are useful in pollination, each with a setting in which it gives best results. Leafcutters are suited to onions, carrots, blueberries, alfalfa and other legume plants’ pollination. Mason bees are great for garden and orchid pollination. Adequate pollination of plants ensures high yields of fruits and seeds. Follow these tips for success with mason and leafcutter bees pollinating your plants.
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