Mason bees

Are you the proud owner of mason bees or are you thinking about starting a house? These are the must knows!

When you receive your mason bees

From mid February to early March it’s time to place your mason bees outside. Place the small box that contains the bees in the attic of your mason bee house, or tape it underneath the roof of your bee house. Make sure to create an exit hole for your bees. You can do this by pulling and removing the tab on the box. It is also important to protect your house from direct rain.

When the bees get to work

The bees will emerge as the heat of the sun warms them up. A couple days after the males appear, the females will join them, mate, and get to work foraging pollen and nectar. Next, they will lay their offspring. Typically, the mother will choose to lay the female eggs at the back of the tube and male eggs at the front. The female eggs are noticeably larger than the males. Leave the nest undisturbed at its spring location as young fragile bees develop into adults throughout the summer months. 

What to do in the fall

Between October and late December it’s time to take down your nests, examine the contents and clean the cocoons, as well as the nest. Separate nesting trays by undoing the bolts and pull the trays apart.

Like dogs can get flees, mason bees are also susceptible to small pests. One of these is a pollen feeding mite. It comes into the nest on the adult and breed off the pollen, leaving nothing for the developing bee larva. You may notice that some of the cells that should have cocoons are filled with yellow sand like particles. Mites have taken over these cells. If left untreated, the mites will make their way throughout the nest. Bee populations crash in approximately three years if their nests are not cleaned.

There is a quick and easy solution to the mite problem. Simply give your bee cocoons a bath in the fall and at the same time, clean their nest. 

How to clean mason bee cocoons

To clean the cocoons you will need:

  • 2 containers – each filled with 5ml bleach in 1L of cold water.
  • 1 container filled with cold water.
  • Running water.
  • Fine mesh sieve.
  • Paper towel.
  • Scrubbing brush.

Step 1: Separate trays. To separate the trays you will have to remove the nut, washer and bolts.

Step 2: Remove cocoons. Gently remove the cocoons from the trays. Stir-sticks are ideal for levering cocoons out of each nesting channel.

Step 3: Bleach bath. Add the cocoons to the first container of the bleach/water bath you prepared. Ensure the cocoons are well wetted down to remove the mites, mud and other debris adhering to them. Wet them for approximately two to five minutes.

Step 4: Fresh water. Using the sieve, wash the cocoons in the container with fresh water or under running water.

Step 5: Repeat steps 3 and 4. Do this until the majority of the mites have been removed.

Step 6: Dry. Spread the cocoons onto a paper towel, and let them dry approximately ten to twenty minutes.

Step 7: Store. Keep your bees in a small cardboard box, and place them inside a sturdy container, for instance a coffee can, to protect them. Make some holes to the container to allow air circulation. Bees can be stored in a cool, dry place, such as a tool shed, garage, cellar or old fridge. Do not store the bees in a frost free fridge as they will dry out and die.

Step 8: Clean trays. Now that you have cleaned and stored your cocoons, it’s time to scrub the trays. Do this using a scrubbing brush and the same ratio of water to bleach. Rinse thoroughly to remove the bleach and reassemble after they are dry.

To prolong the life of your mason bee house, store it indoors during the winter months. Only do this when the mason bees have been removed and the house is clean.

Helpful tips

1. Place your bees out when it is cool, late in the evening or early in the morning. Bees that are set out when it is warm, will more like disperse away from the nest.

2. Tape your package of bees to your bee house or place it in the ‘attic’, with the exit hole facing the sun.

3. Do not expose your bee package to rain as they will be unable to warm up when they are wet. 

4. Are you looking for a cardboard container to place your bees in? Try a tea box. Use a small amount of toilet paper for insulation and remember to create an exit hole. 

Common questions

Do mason bees sting?

Mason bees do have a stinger, but you would have to pinch one between your fingers to get it to sting you. A sting from a mason bee is less than a sting from a mosquito. Furthermore, the mason bee builds a mud wall to protect each of its eggs, and therefore has nothing to defend.

What do mason bees eat?

Mason bees get their energy from eating nectar and they get protein from pollen.

How long is the life of an adult mason bee?

A mason bee lives anywhere from two to six weeks. They excel with good weather and continuous bloom.

Do mason bees make honey?

Unlike the honey bee, which produces wax and honey to keep its colony alive over winter, the mason bee only needs to leave food for the young bees in the form of a pollen and nectar pillow.

Source: Beediverse.