Mason bees have the ability to fly in our weather conditions and at lower temperatures than other bees. They are relatively easy to stage and care for. Native throughout southern Canada and continental USA, Blue Orchard Mason Bees are super-efficient, hard-working , spring crop pollinators: They collect nectar and pollen at the same time by lighting on the flower, taking nectar by tongue and collecting pollen using their rear and middle legs. A single female mason bee will visit nearly 2,000 blossoms a day and a smaller home orchard can be adequately pollinated by 40 – 50 bees. Ten mason bees will pollinate thousands of blossoms making them important for home garden pollination.
The mason bee is smaller than the honeybee, with a metallic blue body and two sets of wings. The smaller males have longer antennae than the females, and have hairs on the underside for carrying pollen.
Setting up nesting sites for these gentle, beneficial insects is fascinating, fun and good for our local environment. Creating a haven for mason bees at home is a wonderful educational opportunity for children of all ages. Kids can get up close and personal with the bees during their winter hibernation, when their nests are dismantled and their cocoons are cared for. Learning about their life cycles is a great first step in understanding garden ecology.
To increase fruit harvests, many people provide nest sites for mason bees. These small, solitary insects gather pollen over a short period of time in the spring to nourish their offspring in nesting holes. As they gather pollen, they pollinate fruit trees, cane fruit and strawberries. These bees are very easy to work with. They do not sting and go about their business even with you watching very closely. Mason bees provide a great educational opportunity for kids to learn about the life cycles of beneficial insects. Your goal should be to increase the native population in your yard by providing nest sites, caring for them over the winter and providing safe, clean nest sites the following year.
Cleaning your Mason Bee Cocoons:
Open the Mason Bee blocks or tubes and gently remove all cocoons out of the Nesting channels. Remove as much mud as you can and place the cocoons in a strainer running lukewarm water over them to remove all mud off the cocoons.
Fill, a bowl with 2 quarts of cold water and 1 teaspoon of bleach. Place the cocoons in the bleach water and gently stir for approximately 2 to 3 minutes, which would take care of all mites that were left on them.
When this is done put your cocoons back in the strainer and rinse them with cold water. After rinsing, place them in a bowl with clean water and leave them there for approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Any cocoons that are not floating on the water, and sank to the bottom of the bowl, remove them and dispose of them. These may have insect predators inside of them or they are unhealthy cocoons.
Take your cocoons and put them back in the strainer and let the water drip off for a few minutes to get them as dry as possible. Put them on paper towel spreading them out evenly, then gently putting another paper towel on top to try to absorb as much water as you can off them.
The cocoons are now ready for storing in your fridge or leaving them outdoors in a cool location. If you store them in the fridge you need humidity of at least 60% . The temperature should be no higher than 38F. or 3.33C. If the temperature gets too warm they will start emerging and coming to life, therefore it is important to keep them cool until you are ready to release them in the spring.
I like to store cocoons outside in an unheated workshop till the end of November, then I put them in my fridge till spring time.
I find my wine cooler gives me the right temperature and humidity. Make sure your cocoons do not freeze, that would kill them.
They are now ready to start the new journey in the spring when you place them in their Mason Bee home.
Why do Mason Bees need our help in nature for their survival?
In the winter months, if we get a few days of warm weather they think it's spring and will emerge and starve or if we get a major frost they will freeze to death.
2. Parasites & Predators
The Mason Bee brings in mites from the blossoms and takes them right into her nest. The mites multiply very quickly and destroy all the food the baby Mason Bees needs for survival. Mites walk to neighbouring nesting holes. They are very hearty and will not die even in cold weather or if you place them in your freezer.
Mason Bees tend to reuse the same locations from the year before where she laid her larva. Therefore, entering an infested home where the predators are waiting for her to lay her larva to devour it.
3. Houdini Fly
The Houdini Fly is one of our latest and most dangerous predators for Mason Bees. This fly originates from Europe. She will sit and wait
outside the Mason Bee home and wait for the Mason Bees to leave. The Houdini Fly will then enter the home and lay her eggs on top
of the Mason Bee larva. When her eggs develop they are many tiny maggots. The maggots will then devour the Mason Bee larva. A
solution to this is cleaning nesting blocks every fall. The Houdini Fly maggots need to be destroyed.
4. Parasitic Wasps
The Parasitic Wasp lay their eggs inside the bee larva. Dozen of adult wasps emerge from each affected bee cocoon and return to infect the
larva the next pollination season. Harvest the cocoons to reduce the attack of these sneaky pests. In June, when you see no more Mason
Bees flying in and out of their nesting blocks, remove your nesting blocks and put them in a safe cool place. This will prevent predators
from trying to enter the nesting blocks.
Mites may be harmful to native populations of mason bees, so cleaning the nest sites and cocoons is critical. It is important to remove the cocoons from the nest site and clean them to prepare for the next season. This is done from October to December, when you gather the hibernating cocoons to wash them and store them over the winter. The Mason Bee book describes this well.
We carry a variety of Mason Bee homes that will suit your garden. Get all the information and supplies you need to get started and keep your bees healthy and productive.
Mason Bee Storage Quick Reference Guide [Click Here]
Replacement tubes in sets of 15, 25 and 150