That Time Of Year, Again

It’s the end of October and I’m just harvesting my mason bee cocoons. I usually do it the end of September, but I kept forgetting. After harvesting them, I see that the extra month was actually beneficial. I had a lower percentage of larvae that didn’t develop cocoons. I also noticed that out of the cocoons harvested from the wood blocks, about 1/3 didn’t develop, whereas the tubes with liners only had about 1% of undeveloped cocoons. So, next season, I’ll be putting liners in all the wood blocks to see if it makes a difference. In all, I harvested 484 cocoons. I didn’t see any evidence of parasites this time and no wasps. While the cocoons are drying from their mild bleach wash, I have the wood blocks soaking in a bleach solution after scrubbing them so they’ll be ready in the spring.

 

On another note, mom said that their peach tree did really well this year and she believes that her mason bees were the reason. She’s excited to see what happens this season with the cocoons she’s harvested.

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Drying Cocoons

Fall Harvest

I just spent the past 2 1/2 hours harvesting about 2/3 of the cocoons from the nesting tubes, washing away the dirt and letting the cocoons sit in a bath of (weak) bleach water. I’m happy to report that I saw no parasites this year and no evidence of mites (it there had been mites, I would have seen orange or red spots on the paper towel where the cocoons are drying). Once the cocoons are dry, I will be putting them in the special humidifier box I bought from Crown Bees and storing them in the refrigerator until spring. I will finish harvesting the rest of the cocoons later this week.

Block & tubes

A partially filled block and a mesh bag of filled tubes.

Cocoons

A partially filled tray with viable cocoons that are separated by the hardened mud plugs.

Larvae

Some of the larvae never spun cocoons and were discarded.

Drying Cocoons

Washed cocoons drying on paper towels.

Nesting Trays

Unstacked nesting trays drying after being scrubbed and disinfected.

More Cocoons

Yesterday, I received more cocoons from Crown Bee Supply. Not that I really needed them…but Dave needed to find homes for them and I wanted to help my neighbor, Jeanette.

Small bee house & tubesJeanette put up a small bee house a few weeks ago and I had given her an attractant cloth. But, she didn’t have any signs of bee activity. I’m hoping to change that, so I too my new cocoons over to her and we put the box near her bee house and tubes. One bee (probably a male) immediately crawled out of the box and fell to the ground. We couldn’t find him, but hoped he just needed a moment to recover from the hard work of nibbling out of the cocoon. I plan to pop over later this afternoon to see if the rest of the cocoons have emerged.

While the fruit trees have lost most of their blooms, Jeanette does have an apple tree with a few blooms left as well as all kinds of flowering plants near the bee house. I hope it’s enough.

———-

I just returned from Jeanette’s house. It looks like all the bees have emerged from the cocoons, but have flown off. We didn’t see any evidence of nesting. There’s a chance they migrated back to my nests, so I’m not too worried. I did suggest that maybe the nest be moved to a different location (and closer to mud) next year.

Proud Mom!

Yes, I feel like a proud mom! All but about 40 of my harvested cocoons hatched! Watching them first mate, then start laying eggs in the tubes has been so rewarding.

But let me back up a smidge…last fall, my Asian pear trees had produced more fruit than the previous year. Not only that, but the one variety that was typically bland tasting was the sweetest of the three trees! I really believe my bees contributed to a good fruit yield.

I added a nesting block from Crown Bees this year…and the girls have been so busy, I had to just order more tubes and reeds to accommodate them! I just have to find something to put them in (I think my husband needs to make a box for me this weekend).

I also got my neighbor to join in on the fun. She just bought a bee house and tubes, so I gave her a bee attractant cloth…maybe some of my gals will migrate over to her bee home. Crown Bees still has cocoons that need homes, so I ordered more of those, too. I plan to give some to my neighbor to really get her started. The fruit trees have pretty much dropped their blooms, but there are still plenty of flowers (lilac, roses, and others) around for them to continue making bee bread for their brood.

By the looks of things, I think I’ll have twice as many cocoons at last year. I plan to give the extras to Crown Bee (in exchange for nesting materials, maybe).

In preparation for after the bees are done laying eggs, I purchased a net sack to keep out parasites, etc. I also purchased a humidifier for the fridge, that will make it easier to store my cocoons.

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.