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Old 02-07-2012, 03:57 PM   #1
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Default Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests

I titled the thread Fall Cleaning but I really didn't get around to starting it until December. In October it can be done in a warm room without any danger of waking the bees from their hibernation. In late December it's a bit chancy, so I did it in an unheated garage.

These photos show what the mason bee nests look like in trays. You can see the cocoons separated by the mud walls. The orange-brown powdery looking cells are pollen mites and pollen mite waste.
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Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-mason_bee_tray_1.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-mason_bee_tray_2.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-mason_bee_nest_1.jpg  
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Old 02-07-2012, 03:58 PM   #2
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In addition to the trays I also had some phragmites reed nests to clean. The first photo shows some of the filled reeds in the nest box. The color of the mud closing off the reed entrances varies according to the mud source the mason bees were using that day.

The easiest way to get the cocoons out of the phragmites reeds is to insert a knife into the end of the reed and give the knife a twist. The reeds will split open into two halves. A "bee tool" is then used to remove the contents from the two reed halves. I make my own bee tools by cutting the tip off of a screwdriver and then grinding the end of the shaft to an appropriate bevel. I use the same tool to remove the cocoons from the tray type nests.

The cocoons are easily separated from most of the waste material, but still need a good cleaning to insure a healthy disease free population of bees next spring. All of the brown fecal matter, pollen mites, and pollen mite waste materials are removed with a washing process.
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Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-phragmites_nest.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-opening_phragmites.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-cleaning_phragmites_reeds.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-uncleaned_cocoons.jpg  
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Old 02-07-2012, 03:59 PM   #3
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After rinsing in cool water and washing in a bleach solution (one tablespoon of clorox bleach in four quarts of water) the cocoons are put on paper towels to dry. The cleaning process is a bit difficult to describe in detail; the best explanation I've found is in this book:
http://beediverse.com/products-page/...9-2nd-edition/
and this DVD:
http://beediverse.com/products-page/...ut-mason-bees/

When they are dry I put them in a wooden box to store in an unheated garage until next spring.
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Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-drying_cocoons_1.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-drying_cocoons.jpg   Fall Cleaning of Mason Bee Nests-storing_cocoons.jpg  
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Old 02-07-2012, 05:52 PM   #4
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I haven't ANY knowledge whatsoever about these things.
Do they then hatch come spring???? Why aren't they let be to do their own thing in the tubes? Are there too many ahead of them in a line and they die waiting for the others to exit? Couldn't you just turn the tubes around so the first of the cocoons created hatch first then one after the next and the next as they were created can make their way out?
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Old 02-07-2012, 07:24 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by havalotta View Post
I haven't ANY knowledge whatsoever about these things.
Do they then hatch come spring???? Why aren't they let be to do their own thing in the tubes? Are there too many ahead of them in a line and they die waiting for the others to exit? Couldn't you just turn the tubes around so the first of the cocoons created hatch first then one after the next and the next as they were created can make their way out?
What she said!!
Tell us more please I was given a mason bee house as a gift a few years ago and put out in the garden I didn't know they needed such maintenance.
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Old 02-08-2012, 01:15 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by havalotta View Post
I haven't ANY knowledge whatsoever about these things.
Do they then hatch come spring???? Why aren't they let be to do their own thing in the tubes? Are there too many ahead of them in a line and they die waiting for the others to exit? Couldn't you just turn the tubes around so the first of the cocoons created hatch first then one after the next and the next as they were created can make their way out?
Yes. Ok. No. No.


Let me back up to the big picture before I answer your specific questions. There’s two scenarios that you can employ with respect to increasing the population of our native bees (Osmia lignaria in this case).

The first is a restoration type of activity. Just like planting native trees, shrubs and herbaceous plants to provide pollen and nectar for the bees, providing nesting sites meets one of their important habitat needs. Most yards/landscapes have few nesting sites for native bees; dead trees, shrubs and large grasses with nesting holes are removed, bare ground (ground nesting bees) is covered with pavement, grass or mulch, etc. In this scenario you can simply put out a few nesting holes for mason bees each year. It needs to be done each year because mason bees will rarely use nesting holes that have been used in previous years. This will provide them with the nesting resources that they would have in a more natural habitat where new clean holes are being created each year. They will have up and down years for their population just as they would in the wild.

The second scenario involves raising the mason bee population to higher than normal levels in order to provide better pollination for fruit trees (apple, pear, plum, apricot, peach, cherry, etc.). Just as with the restoration scenario, providing nesting resources is an important need. An important part of this scenario is to do this in a way that does not harm the local ecosystem. I believe in the “build it and they will come” approach. Mason bees are native to almost every state in the continental U.S. And everyone should use the bees that are native to their area. I don’t think mason bees should be purchased unless it’s from a local population.

This second scenario also comes with the responsibility to maintain the health and well being of this increased population. A lot of research has been done on mason bees (Osmia lignaria) and the cleaning of the cocoons in the fall or early winter is an important part of maintaining a healthy population. Using nesting trays is one of the easiest ways to do this.


Now with that background in mind let me try to answer your questions.
Quote:
Do they then hatch come spring????
Yes, they have a one year life cycle. Adults in the spring (sometime between mid-march and mid-june in our area), larvae in the summer which will spin a cocoon in late summer. In late summer or early fall the adult bee will form within the cocoon and will remain in that state over winter. In spring the adult bee chews it's way out of the cocoon and starts the life cycle all over again. The adults only live about 4 weeks. During that time the female will lay about 25 - 30 eggs under ideal conditions.

Quote:
Why aren't they let be to do their own thing in the tubes?
This will work fine if you are doing the restoration scenario. You just need to provide some new nesting holes each year.

If you are doing the fruit tree pollination scenario you need to take the cocoons out of the tubes each year and clean them in order to prevent a build up of disease and other pests.

Quote:
Are there too many ahead of them in a line and they die waiting for the others to exit? Couldn't you just turn the tubes around so the first of the cocoons created hatch first then one after the next and the next as they were created can make their way out?
Actually they 'hatch' in the opposite order that they are laid - the last one laid is closest to the entrance and that one emerges first. The last ones laid are the males. It's sort of an evolutionary survival strategy. If a woodpecker attacks the nest for example, the males are the most expendable.

Turning the tubes around wouldn't work. As you can imagine the space inside the filled tube is very limited. The bees are all pointed in the direction of the entrance and they don't have the room to turn around and go in another direction. If you take a close look at the cocoons in the photos above you will see that there is a small projection at one end. That is the end where the bee's head is at. If the bees encounter a dead bee or some other obstacle in front of them they will usually just chew through it in order to make their way to the entrance.
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Old 02-08-2012, 08:55 AM   #7
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I see....... So by giving them a bleach bath, You've eliminated the mites that would have latched onto the exiting adults and ate the pollen that the bees larvae should have received!
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Old 02-08-2012, 09:40 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by havalotta View Post
I see....... So by giving them a bleach bath, You've eliminated the mites that would have latched onto the exiting adults and ate the pollen that the bees larvae should have received!
Exactly, although the bleach solution doesn't get rid of all of the mites. It's a relatively weak bleach solution and it really just irritates the mites so that they let go of the cocoons and they can then be washed away. The bleach solution also helps control any bacterial or fungal problems. A stronger bleach solution would likely harm the bees.

Even if you could get rid of all of the mites there would still be some in the new nesting holes. The bees will pick up some hitchhikers when they gather their pollen. The mites only need one to reproduce, and they reproduce at a rapid rate. They will consume the pollen set aside for the new larvae and the larvae will then die from starvation. The mud walls that the bees build between each cell helps to keep the mites in only those cells that have been contaminated with a mite.
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Old 02-08-2012, 10:58 AM   #9
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Quote:
They 'hatch' in the opposite order they are laid. The last ones laid are the males. It's sort of an evolutionary survival strategy. If a woodpecker attacks the nest for example, the males are the most expendable. Turning the tubes around wouldn't work. The bees are all pointed in the direction of the entrance and they don't have the room to turn around and go in another. If the bees encounter a dead bee or other obstacle in front of them they usually chew through it to make their way to the entrance
Interesting
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Old 02-13-2012, 12:15 PM   #10
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I've added some more specific information about pollinating fruit trees with mason bees here:
Using Mason Bees to Pollinate Apple and Other Fruit Trees
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apple, bee, bee habitat, bee nests, bee trays, cleaning, cleaning cocoons, cocoons, fall, fruit, mason, mason bees, native bees, nesting sites, nests, phragmites, pollen mites, pollinating, trees

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