Around the end of 2011, I contacted a local honeybee keeper and asked him if he wanted to put a hive on my property. He asked me why I wanted them. I told him several reasons:
- I knew that bees were in decline and wanted to help.
- I have three Asian pear trees that were declining and felt help with pollination would give them a boost.
He told me that honeybees wouldn’t be able to help with that because they tend to be active long after fruit tree blooms have fallen off. He asked me if I had heard of mason bees. When I said no, he said I should do some research and that these bees were also called orchard bees since they are beneficial to pollinating vast orchards.
So, off I went to the internet in search of more information.
I found out that compared to honeybees, mason bees had quite a few differences:
- Mason bees didn’t live in hives,
- they didn’t sting (a big bonus since I’m allergic to honeybee stings)
- they didn’t swarm
- they don’t produce honey (a bummer, but their pollination benefits offset this)
- they required much less equipment
- they cost less to maintain
I ordered nesting tubes, liners and natural reeds from Amazon.com since they were a bit cheaper than some of the mason bee supply companies. I also ordered 25 cocoons from Ruhl Bee Supply.
When I got my cocoons, I put them in my fridge until it was time to put them outside. I put the nesting tubes in a long can and hung it from one of the pear trees. Once the trees starting blooming, I put the box in the can and waited for the bees to emerge. Unfortunately, they didn’t like the location and immediately flew off.
Not to be deterred, I ordered 50 more cocoons fro Ruhl, along with a bee house (instead of the can). I also did more research and found that I should place the house/tubes/cocoons in a south or southeast location so morning sun can warm the bees. I also needed to create a mud source (clay based, not sandy) nearby. I have a wrap-around covered porch that would be perfect. Plus, birds never seem to fly under the porch roof, so I thought the bees might be more protected than in the trees. It was a good choice! My bees emerged, mated, and got busy!
Watching the bees was so fascinating!
At the end of September, I removed all the tubes and opened them up. 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), 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.