Last Year

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:

  1. I knew that bees were in decline and wanted to help.
  2. 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:

  1. Mason bees didn’t live in hives,
  2. they didn’t sting (a big bonus since I’m allergic to honeybee stings)
  3. they didn’t swarm
  4. they don’t produce honey (a bummer, but their pollination benefits offset this)
  5. they required much less equipment
  6. 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.