We offer: Mason Bees, and Small Orchard Services for Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington. Contact us if you wish to learn more or want to inquire about our products. We don’t sell directly on the internet because of location and environmental concerns. We like our bees to survive and want to inform you of how to care for them.
Gary and Billie Bevers 360-270-1470 or 360-225-4913 firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for today, October 5, 2017
Here we are already into October. I don’t know what happened to September, but I suspect it slipped by while we were harvesting and canning. October is the month we concentrate on planting garlic and, of course, harvesting our mason bees cocoons.
The heavy spring rains in March and April reduced the amount of cocoons we expected, but like any farmer or rancher you deal with the weather the best you can. With an estimate of over 10,000 cocoons, we will still have plenty for next year.
We have started our harvest classes so we are just now getting an idea of what pests and diseases are in the area (thank you Vancouver Mall Library). I will hold my comments on this until I see more of what everyone brings in. In our yard the mites are showing up in pretty heavy numbers…more on this later after we finish our harvest. This is why I harvest. I don’t want those mites back in my yard. Our next harvest class is this Saturday at Tsugawa Nursery and I am anxious to see what everyone brings in.
Whether you use the sand or the water method, or a combination of the two it is important to take care of your cocoons. Bees in the wild will use different areas to lay their eggs. They will leave, usually after a few years, if the holes fill up with parasites. We are concentrating the nesting areas, which leave them more susceptible to pests and diseases. If we don’t clean out the nesting areas, all the pests and diseases will end up back in our yard to infect the next year’s crop.
If you get the chance and are near the Woodland Washington area, come join us for a free harvest talk and class. If you don’t have your own cocoons but want the experience you can use ours (I keep the cocoons!). It’s a chance to talk to people who are raising mason bees, and to have fun learning about this special bee.
410 Scott Ave., Woodland, WA
Saturday, October 7, 2017, 11:00am
Notes for today, July 30, 2017
With temperatures scheduled to be in the 100s for this area, I thought I might say a few words about your nesting mason bee cocoons. If they are still out in their nesting sites it might be wise to bring them in to a cooler area such as a shed or garage. Please remember to protect them with bug proof screening (mouse proof too if you have rodent issues like we do). Don’t put them in the refrigerator or cooler, it’s much too early for that and they won’t develop properly.
Your cocoons at this stage of development will be changing from larva to bee. Once they have eaten all their nectar and pollen stores left for them in the egg chamber they will start spinning their cocoons. It is a dangerous time for them since they have no defenses and parasitic wasps can locate the cocoons (and feces…bee poop) by smell.
The blue orchard bee is only one variety of over 140 types of orchard bees here in the Northwest. This bee and the Japanese hornfaced bee have very similar habits and use the same nesting material. For early spring pollinators, they are the ones to count on.
Notes for Today June 9, 2017
This was certainly not the spring we had last year. Although the temperature has been more seasonal for the Northwest, the record rainfall this early spring took a toll on our bee population. Normally mason bees can fly in our “off and on” drizzle and they work their nesting area a little slower than sunny days, but they still manage. We had record rains, and they were heavy. We estimate that our bee harvest will be half of what it was last year. Our plum and cherry trees had plenty of bloom, but very little got pollinated.
We did have one location that had a bumper crop, and we have a theory about what happened. The location is about 1,000 feet up in elevation. Their bloom happened about a month later than the lower elevations and their plum trees were pollinated while ours were not. The later bloom in the higher elevation allowed the mason bees to get out and forage when the weather improved later in the spring.
It’s now time to pick up and protect the developing larva. We’re later than usual, but because of the bad weather our mason bees didn’t do as much flying. This allowed them to live longer since their wings were not so torn up. Unfortunately with too much time spent waiting for the rains to stop, I believe the females absorbed some of the eggs for nutrition…a little survival trick. It should be interesting to see what else we find in our nesting material when we harvest this October. Because of the late pickup, we may find more parasitic wasps than normal.
Notes for Today, May 16, 2017
Well folks, it’s been a long, rainy, cool spring and the bees are showing the effects of it. Our nesting areas should be over halfway filled by this time, but they are less than 1/3rd filled. The only good news is that there is plenty of mud and with less flying time they should last a little longer into the spring. I can almost feel them shivering. Hang on little bees, sun and warmer weather is the forecast for the rest of the week.
Our bloom is another thing that has decreased. As far as I can tell, most of the plum, apple, pear, cherry, blueberry, huckleberry, and lingonberry from our property have finished blooming. Most of the maple trees are done, although there may be a late one or two. Our strawberries are in bloom and the raspberries should be soon, so I think they are relying on a smattering of wildflowers…including dandelions.
Keep your fingers crossed that we hit a sunny spot and our hardworking girls can find enough forage.
Notes for today, April 21, 2017
Today was our one totally sunny day and the bees were out and working. I was asked earlier “where are my bees”. When our bees first hatched they didn’t stick around the nest, they headed for the bushes and trees and anything else they chose for shelter. Once the females hatch, they too may or may not stay with the nest area. Once their eggs develop they head for the nesting areas. Sometimes you don’t see the activity until a sunny day when their activity increases. On a day like today, it’s a good time to take a moment or two and watch the nesting boxes.
Four days ago we have a break in the weather and noticed the females actually going into the holes. The males will make quick runs at the entrance checking for females, but bees that go into the holes and stay awhile are packing in the mud, food, and eggs. Today we spotted our first filled hole. Once they get started, they are really quick if the weather lets them. Showers will slow them down but rain will stop them. If the rains happen for too long of a stretch, your females will start absorbing their eggs. It’s nature’s way of ensuring the bee stays alive long enough to lay the rest of her eggs. I don’t see that solid of a rain event coming, but please don’t quote me. Luckily we have plenty in bloom for them to forage. The big leaf maple is in full bloom. The trees look they have hundreds of dangling chartreuse earrings hanging from their branches…beautiful.
If you start to see bees dying, take a closer look they could be males (look for the little white patch on their head). Males only live 2 weeks so if you put them out 2-3 weeks ago, they could be naturally dying off…short life but a merry one.
Notes for today, April 2, 2017
Four days ago, our first cocoons that we put out 14 days ago started hatching. Two days ago, the cocoons we put out last weekend (7 days) started hatching. The warmer the weather, the quicker the hatch and since lots of trees and bushes have burst into bloom this is a good thing. I’ve seen big leaf maple in bloom, so their main source of food in the wild is available. It’s a good indicator that our timing was good.
I have a friend who had several small boxes of cocoons stored in her refrigerator. The refrigerator died, and in the process, dipped below freezing and then created enough condensation to create a wet and eventually warm environment. We weren’t sure the bees were alive after two days in this environment. We took the cocoons out, dried them on the kitchen counter and placed them in totally clear plastic container with holes. After two days we had our first hatch…about 10 bees, boys of course. At the end of day two, we’ve had about one fourth of the entire group of cocoons hatch. I noticed that they seemed to only hatch out during the day and towards afternoon they stopped hatching. I don’t know if it’s natural sunlight that’s doing it, or a timing thing they have in their system. Tonight I’m going to put them in a dark room to see if it changes anything. No girls have hatched yet, but they haven’t hatched in the groups we’ve put outside either. One of the things I did learn about picking up newly hatched bees to put them outside is they will “buzz” your fingers to try and get away. I’ve learned to place my finger near them, and they will usually climb on board making it easier to transport them to a box. They are also not staying in the box where they hatched, but are somewhere out in the trees and bushes. It’s OK as long as they come back for the girls.
It continues to be an interesting year.
Waiting for the girls to hatch.
March 28, 2017
First hatchling of the year 2017.
Notes for today, March 24, 2017
First, a big “thank you” to Al’s Nursery in Sherwood and Gresham for hosting the mason bee talks. It was a really nasty, rainy day (hydroplaning is not my favorite sport), but we still had a couple nice groups with good questions and lots of interest.
The spring bloom is about 2 weeks late this year due to the weather and it doesn’t look like it’s going to improve anytime soon. Plum trees are in bloom at the 200 foot level in Longview, Kalama, and Woodland. Last week, while in Sherwood I noticed the bloom through the Portland area was about 1 week ahead of the Longview area. At higher elevations (500-1000 feet) everything is about 1-2 weeks behind the lower elevations.
Taking the weather, temperatures, and elevation into account we decided to release about half of our cocoons in the lower elevations and wait until this weekend to release the rest. Nothing has hatched yet, but at least they are warmer than in the refrigerator. Last year our hatch was 97%, this year I’m not expecting it. When they do hatch out and start looking for food, they will certainly find it.
Good luck with your mason bees…it’s going to be a rough year.
Notes for today, March 15, 2017
Yes, we’ve had a ridiculous amount of rain, but the budding trees will not be denied and spring is on its way. There is no guarantee, but in looking at the next 10 day forecast, we will be seeing the sun for a couple of days. Although we will be getting more precipitation, it’s in the form of showers not rain (at least that’s what they tell me).
So here’s the deal. It’s time to put out your cocoons if you have bloom in your yard, or if your orchard bloom is showing color. If you are at a higher elevation please check your temperatures and make sure your bloom is out. Please make sure it’s bloom the bees will go for…daffodils don’t count. If the weather turns cold or rainy for more than a couple of days and your bees have hatched, soak a cotton ball in sugar water (1:1, or 2:1, I’ve heard both). Leave it near the bees so they can get it without moving too much.
Remember to place your box facing East, Southeast, or South to catch as much sun as you can. The box should be between 3-5 feet off the ground. If you have a windy site, try to protect it as much as possible, or find another location. Bees hate wind! Protect your bees from birds by putting chicken wire over the face of the box. Birds love bees!
Notes for Today, March 5, 2017
First and foremost, a big “thank you” to the folks in Stevenson, Washington for giving me a warm welcome. Stevenson is a beautiful town with a lovely library and the views are spectacular. I managed to take a picture just at sundown when I arrived. It’s a little dark, but you can see the mountains on the Oregon side with the Columbia River at its base. My group who came to hear the mason bee talk was most concerned about the environment. I share their concerns.
We are still too cold to put out cocoons, and the weather for the next week doesn’t look much better. We need about a week of temps in the 50s and less rain than we are getting now for the cocoons to hatch. The bloom has slowed, but it’s happening. On our property in Woodland, Washington the plum tree is showing color in the buds, our earliest maple tree is close to bloom, the pieris japonica (Andromeda) has started to bloom and the lilac is showing green buds. We took a trip to Bothel, Washington (east of Seattle) yesterday and along I-5 you could see a reddish color to some of the trees. I believe these were maples getting ready to bloom. Maples, especially the big leaf maple, are a major food source for our mason bees. Spring is coming, we just have to be patient.
This week we are putting out our boxes and nesting material without cocoons. There are a couple of reasons for this: First, we have a lot of cocoons to put out, so getting some of the boxes in place saves us time, and second, we have wild mason bees in the area and could do some wild capturing if there are some early hatches. It also allows us time to think about placement…what areas need more boxes, are their new areas we could try?
I’m also seeing a lot of flickers, blue jay, and woodpeckers. You can bet all my boxes will have a protective front of chicken wire to keep the birds from eating my cocoons and bees. All of our boxes are a couple of inches longer than the nesting material. It helps keep out the rain, the nesting material is too far back for birds to get to, and it allows our bees a “sun porch” to warm themselves up in the early morning without getting eaten. If you are building your own boxes, or are thinking about buying a box, keep that in mind. We find it really useful. Our boxes also have a hinged front that allows us to open the lid and observe what’s hatching. Just below the lid is an “attic” where we place our cocoons. Once they hatch, they escape through the two holes you see just above the chicken wire. My husband is thinking about selling the specs and instructions on building the house for a small fee. If anyone is interested, let me know and I’ll put him to work.
Notes for Today, February 23, 2017
This winter is slowly drawing to a close, but it is colder than usual and blooms are behind schedule. There are still a few weeks until blooms suitable for mason bees will be out. Not all bloom is suitable. Daffodils and early rhododendrons don’t count.
For those of you thinking about setting out your own boxes and straws, here are a few reminders. Inserts, by themselves, don’t give a lot of protection against parasitic wasps. If you buy inserts remember to include tubes. They are sold together, or separately, and the tubes will last for a few years.
All you need to tear open are the white inserts when you harvest. Reeds will also work. Do not use bamboo; you will need a hatchet to open it. Please do NOT use plastic straws like the ones you find at fast food places. Bees will bring in moisture when they use the straws and the moisture will not dissipate creating an environment not healthy for developing bees. Likewise, plain paper straws can be too soft and not hold up. You can make your own straws with copy paper, as long as there are several wraps to keep out parasitic wasps. Other materials such as parchment paper will work. If you make your own straws try for 5/16-inch hole. Smaller than that and you may get another type of bee other than the blue orchard mason bee (or Japanese horned face bee), or your bee cocoons will be all male. 3/8 inch will work, but will not be preferred. Your mason bee females don’t like to make extra trips to fill up a larger hole.
All tubes and straws need protection. You can use large PVC pipe, build or buy your own box or use some form of container that will protect your bees and larva. There are several options. Our spring weather is fickle, to say the least. Rain and moisture are our major concerns, but towards the end of spring it can get pretty warm. If you have your boxes facing south they can heat up. I prefer wood because of its natural insulating properties and the ability to wick away moisture better than plastic. I also like my inserts to sit back away from the front of the box. It helps to keep rain off the nesting material, gives my bees a “front porch” to warm up in the morning, and if I put 1 inch chicken wire over the front, it helps keep our rather large bird population at bay. Any questions? Let us know.
We had a wonderful group of people at Vancouver Mall Library for our mason bee talk. I thought perhaps we would get 10 listeners if we were lucky, but they kept coming. At the end we ended up with 35 people. Fantastic group of librarians and helpers got us document copies and chairs and made us feel very welcome!
Saturday we will be at Tsugawa’s Nursery in Woodland, Washington. I can’t be sure, but I think this is our 4th year doing the mason bee talk. It’s always a pleasure. We have an added advantage of showing what bushes and shrubs work well for the spring forage. Next week, it’s on to Stevenson. Let’s hope the snow and ice has left the area.
Notes for today, February 15, 2017
It’s still cold in southwestern Washington, but I’m hoping the snows are done for the year and we are only going to get our usual rain. The earliest of our flowers, snowbells are in full bloom as is the sweet box (Sarcococca) that is so fragrant, so I know spring is on its way.
Our boxes have been repainted and will be ready for spring release of our cocoons. It takes a while for the fumes to dissipate. Even the boxes that don’t need a repainting need to be checked for other critters like spiders that like to winter over. It’s not time to put out our cocoons, but in a couple of weeks we may be close. This is a time to monitor closely what’s in cold storage. Developing bees are close to the end of their fat stores and will be ready to hatch in about 3 weeks. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, we will hold off putting them out until we see sustained temperatures in the mid 50s, and of course, the right vegetation in bloom.
Last Saturday we had an excellent class for beginner mason bee ranchers. There were 40 people ready to receive their bees and boxes. This coming Saturday I will be talking at the library in Vancouver Mall, and the Saturday after that I will be at Tsugawa Nursery (check our calendar). It’s encouraging to see more requests coming in for talks on mason bees. It tells me that people are starting to become aware of our native bees…a great natural resource.
Notes for Today, November 30, 2016
It’s rainy, cool, and dark as usual for November. My cocoons (my babies) are all tucked away in the refrigeration unit safe from marauding birds and other critters. Our nesting boxes have been wire brushed out and re-strapped. Unless we find chalkbrood, there is no reason to do a treatment with Clorox and water. The large commercial mason beekeepers are exploring running a torch over the nesting box segments to eliminate all mites. Since these boxes are sent out again, to other locations, it’s a good practice to put into place. We are experimenting with a different method, and I’ll report on the success (or failure) in future posts.
We had a wonderful class at Clark College. It was “all hands on deck” as we worked our way through all the straws and boxes. With the inserts that were used as straws, or homemade straws with not enough wraps to them we found lots of parasitic wasp infestation. These straws had been left out for the summer, so the wasps had found them and laid their eggs. We pull our cocoons about the first of June to keep the wasp invasion to the minimum.
Until next time…
Notes for Today, October 15, 2016
We are halfway through October, and it is proving to be a wild and wooly month. As I write this, the winds are picking up and the rains have been at our door for 3 days…a gift from the remnants of typhoon Songda. After taking a load of bee cocoons north to Seattle, we decided to cut our visit short and come back to Woodland where we could tuck ourselves safely away in our own home. But enough about the weather…on to the bee discussion.
Last Saturday, October 8th we had another bee harvest class and this one was held in Longview for WSU Extension at the training center. We had lots of great help from the Cowlitz County master gardeners, which was a good thing because it was a full class. With over 30 people opening boxes and straws, there was ample opportunity to find evidence of pests and diseases. We did indeed find a lot of blossom mite activity, but the parasitic wasps were few and far between, and we found no indication of chalk brood. There were a few Japanese hornfaced bee cocoons but they are also beneficial mason bees and have been here since 1984. They have “naturalized” and are doing especially well in the Northwest. As long as they don’t overwhelm the native blue orchard bee I’m happy to see them.
Billie Teaching at WSU Master Gardners
Looking at bees
The harvested bees are now clean and in the refrigerator. We have harvested about half our bees, with the next batch getting processed over October and November. We could wait longer, but I want them to reserve their “fat stores”, and the best way to do this is to keep them chilled at around 38 degrees with humidity at or above 60%.
The next harvest class will be at Clark College. If it is anything like this last class, it will be a lot of fun.
Notes for Today, October 1, 2016
It’s that time of year! Time to harvest your cocoons. From now through November is really prime time to process those cocoons and get them safely tucked away into a cool refrigerator, safe from predators, diseases, and changing temperatures.
We had a wonderful harvest class today at Tsugawa’s Nursery. Expecting 14 people, we were pleasantly surprised to see 26 hearty souls brave the rain and come in for the hands on session. We scrambled for chairs! The room was full. One of the questions, I think, warrants repeating here: “Why do we need to harvest cocoons when they do just fine in the wild”? If you are “farming”, you need to be responsible for your livestock. Mason bees have the option to leave if their “homes” get filled with pests and diseases. They are not tied to a hive like honey bees are. If they leave, you’ve lost the bees. If they stay, and their homes aren’t suitable, they can die. It’s similar to cleaning a barn for horses or cattle.
Our weather has really changed over to fall from summer. It was like a switch was flipped and suddenly RAIN…wonderful, beautiful rain! It is definitely time for harvesting cocoons, and a little fishing on the side.
The next harvest class is for WSU Extension in Longview Washington, October 8th at 10am. Sign up, bring your own cocoons or use ours to explore what’s in nesting material besides cocoons.
Notes for today, August 13, 2016
And here we are midway through August. It certainly is different from the last two years…more like a traditional Northwest summer. I understand from the weather forecasters that we are transitioning from El Nino to La Nina. What does that mean for our mason bees? I think it means they will have a better chance of developing and not using up all their stores of food during the summer. Last year, even with a hot, dry summer we still managed to have a 95% hatch rate. If we do the same this year, my guess is they are being handled right and are acclimated totally to the area.
Right now our bees are developing inside their cocoons. They are not “fully cooked”, so if we opened the cocoons at this point, we might find fat larva or white bees. Our nests and straws are safely stored in a shaded open shed. They are inside a storage box with metal screening across the front to keep them as safe as possible. If I refrigerated them at this point, it would slow their development and they would have a harder time hatching in the spring.
Starting in October, we will begin harvesting our cocoons. I try to follow the seasons and I choose October to process and refrigerate because that’s when the temperatures turn colder.
For those of you who are in the SW Washington, NW Oregon area and want a fun class, we are doing harvest classes at WSU Extension in Longview on October 8th and at Clark College in Vancouver on October 22nd, and at Tsugawa Nursery in Woodland (date not set). Watch for notices and more information here, or contact WSU, Clark College or Tsugawa Nursery.
Notes for today, May 9, 2016
We are winding down the season for mason bees. I see less and less activity, so I know I have fewer “girls” working the boxes. It’s dry here, and I am still making mud for them as I water. I see different colors of mud as they pick it up from different areas. I also check the holes at night to see those “little bee butts”. That tells me they are still working the nests.
We are doing a bit of cleanup this week. With all the bees we put out this year, we had about 5% that did not hatch (a very good percentage). Most of them are bees that just didn’t make it, but some may hold parasitic wasps. Although parasitic wasps definitely have value, I don’t want a buildup in the area because we are raising mason bees, and I want fewer wasps and more bees for next year.
It will soon be time to put the nests away into a protected area. I will try to take pictures of how we protect our cocoons. Stay tuned.
Notes for today, April 26, 2016
As the season warms up, we are getting questions about spraying pesticides and herbicides. The beekeeper in me wants to shout DON’T DO IT, but I know that’s unrealistic, so I will tell you what I believe. Be as gentle on this earth as you can. Clover is good for a yard, good for the soil, and good for the bees. Leave it alone. Pull weeds before they go to seed…sometimes easier said than done. If you must spray, read the instructions and follow them to the letter. More is not better. Spray at the right time. Spring is not the time to spray for blackberries, for example. Cut them back or pull them, but wait until fall to use an herbicide. If you can wait a week or two to use (for example) weed and feed, you mason bees will be close to done and won’t be affected. Remember, your mason bees can just leave if they don’t like what’s going on. They are not anchored to a hive. If you have a field of bloom, observe what is there. Chances are you have a lot of pollinators after the nectar and pollen. Don’t spray during the day when they are out. If you can, don’t spray when things are blooming. Just use common sense and realize that what is a weed to us, is food for the pollinators. OK, I’m off my soapbox, and back to normal communication mode.
This has been quite a year for our mason bees. The weather for April has been the warmest on record and I think that has a lot to do with it. We put out the same number of bees this year as we did last year, but so far have over twice as many potential cocoons. We have kept detailed record for the past 3 years on location, weather, and hatch rate. Adjusting locations and increasing or decreasing box sizes have all affected the hatch amounts. Our hatch rate this year has also gone up from a respectable 85-90% to 90-100%. Because of the hot summer last year (and the potential extra food used up in the cocoon) we were expecting a reduced hatch, not an increased one.
I love hearing from all of you, so thank you for contacting us. Comments, stories, and questions are always welcome.
Notes for today, April 15, 2016
Don’t panic! Your bees will slow down during cool, rainy days. They are still out with the sun breaks, but they won’t build a lot of brood. They get to rest up a bit. The sun will be out tomorrow, to quote a song, and your bees with be crazy with activity. The good news is, they will have plenty of mud to play with.
If you have been looking for mason bees, and everyone is out, there is a reason for this. Towards the middle of April suppliers will stop supplying bees because it is towards the end of the season and they have to release what bees they have left. Bees that are held too long will lose their vigor and will have a difficult time hatching. Their food stores will have been depleted.
Notes for Today April 9, 2016
It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone living in this area that we are having weather and temperatures closer to early June and the mason bees are responding. The activity is almost frantic as they fill holes as fast as they can. It’s important to keep mud available during this dry time, so use your hose to add a little moisture to some bare ground. It will keep them from slowing down because they are looking for a mud source.
Another thing to think about while your mason bees are filling their nest boxes is how full are those boxes really? When 2/3 of the holes have been mudded up, the bees are actively working the rest of the nest area. It’s time to put up another box. When there are no more holes to fill because the “empty ones” are being occupied, some of your bees will go elsewhere. Even if the 2nd nest box doesn’t fill, it’s always nice to give them an option.
Check your boxes often. We have noticed an increase in wasp and hornet activity. It was a warmer than normal winter and early spring which tends increase bug population.
Notes for Today, April 2, 2016
Yesterday we had 10 tubes filled, today we have 36. We noticed most of our “girls” frantically going in and out of the nesting area doing what they do best…packing in food and laying eggs. A few females seemed like they were looking for new locations to start nesting. With that in mind, we have put up extra nesting boxes with no bees in them. If they don’t like the spot they are in, we’ve given them some alternatives.
One of the side effects of all this lovely weather is the mud is drying up. Tomorrow I will be creating mud holes.
I have often wondered how these little bees can survive. There are so many other bees and wasps with greater defenses…bigger stingers, more venom, power in numbers. I’ve discovered one of their secrets; they are terrific at “head-butting”. If there are other bugs near their nest it’s “ramming speed” into the intruder. It’s also the way they back off a human who gets a little too close.
Notes for Today, March 30, 2016
A bee on Master Gardener Moe’s finger (Thanks Moe)
A couple of days of warm, dry weather and WOW are things popping! On our south facing box, we have about 80% hatch with hatching still in progress. The “girls” are working the nest areas and starting to lay and mud over, but no filled tubes yet…it’s a little too early. The shadier spots are at about 50% hatch and catching up fast with this warmer weather. We are at about 170 feet in Southwest Washington.
What’s in bloom? Lots! In our yard, and from what I’ve observed in the area, later plum, cherry, Oregon grape, viburnum, skimmia, pear, pearis japonica and lots and lots of maple. Apple blooms are showing color, but not quite there yet. Big leaf maple is their major nectar source in the wild, so it’s a good tree to have nearby. Pearis Japonica bloom will last about 6 weeks…almost the entire time the bees live. If you’re going to plant a bush or two in your yard, or a hedge for your orchard, this is a good one.
I just finished a fun talk at the Longview Garden Club. Thanks ladies for all the great questions and the warm welcome. My next talk will actually be a class on mason bees at Clark College in Vancouver, Washington on April 7th.
Notes for Today, March 9, 2016
The rains are here, and they feel like they will never go away. Temperatures are low 50s, so it’s not a happy time for the mason bees but somehow they are hatching. It’s their time to come out, and they will not be denied. We are hedging out bets though, and putting a cotton ball soaked in sugar water in the hatching area. At least they will have something to nourish them until the rains slow down and we have enough sun breaks so they can get out and gather nectar on their own. The bloom is early this year because of a mild winter. There is plenty for them to dive into once they get going. We have another week of cool rainy weather before I see a change to warmer, drier days. The good news in all of this is that we have plenty of mud! I don’t know what our hatch percentage will be. Last year it was about 85 to 90 percent. Indications for this year are that we have a robust group of bees, so I’m hoping they “weather the storm(s)” and have a happy, although short life.
I’m doing more talks this spring on gardening, mason bees and pollinators. My next one is March 15th at 6pm at the public library in Longview Washington. If you are in the area, come join us for a free talk on starting a garden.
Notes for Today, February 14, 2016
Here comes the spring! You can feel it in the air. But don’t get too excited you know what the weather can do in a few days. Pay attention to what is in bloom in your yard within the 300 foot radius of your mason bee placement. At our house, things are just beginning to bloom and bud out and it’s not enough forage yet for our bees. At our location in Southwest Washington and elevation (170 feet), if the weather is “normal” we anticipate release about the first week in March. For our release, we look at the forecast and try to find a string of warm, sunny days. If we get 5 days in a row of good weather, we set out our cocoons a couple of days ahead of the warm weather. If the weather turns bad, and cocoons have started to hatch, we put a cotton ball soaked in sugar water in the nest area. It’s enough to give them energy for a couple of days.
Location, location, location. Our bees like a warm location protected against rain and wind. East through south facing under the eaves (not too high up….can’t catch the sun) of a building works well. We have also used a large tree. The leaves come out in May for most of our maples, so our bees will be protected from the hottest days in the spring. What they DON’T like is wind and an unstable home. Anything that shakes their home, or is hard to fly into is not what they are looking for. Get your location picked before you place your bees.
One more thought for your forage. If you are thinking about bringing in vegetation to add to your yard, ask the nursery if a systemic has been used on the plant. Anything that is built into a plant to keep bugs from eating it may harm your bees as they gather nectar and pollen. A good nursery will know or will find out for you (ours did). If they don’t know, walk away.
Join me if you can for a 1 hour free talk at Tsugawa Nursery on February 27th at 11:00am. Here’s the link. http://www.tsugawanursery.com/events.htm
Notes for January 14, 2016
Well, here we are in the middle of January and our mason bees are slumbering quietly not yet ready to emerge from their cocoons. Like any parent I worry when they are asleep; are they too cold, are they too hot, ARE THEY ALIVE. Maybe that last part has more to do with the bees than it did with my kids. The truth is, without really “candling” the cocoons (looking into them with a bright light, it’s hard to tell if they are viable bees or not. On the cocoons that have a small hole, or the ones that are slightly sunken and have a “crinkly feel”, there’s a good chance that the bee is no longer there and you might have parasitic wasps instead. If you find a cocoon that you suspect might not have a bee inside, it’s worth taking a look by cutting off the very tip of the cocoon and splitting it open to check things out. The best candidate for this would be a small cocoon. It’s more likely to have boy bee in it if you are wrong.
January is also the month to get your bee boxes ready. All the painting, refurbishing, and building should be done now allowing for solvents and paints to dry and the odor to dissipate before the cocoons are added.
So far our new non-frost free refrigerator is holding the humidity at about 60-80% with a small container of water to help keep the moisture up a bit. Because we have nothing else in the fridge except bottled water and bees, we don’t have any mold buildup. Last year, because we had them in a standard refrigerator and we had items that grew mold, our bees were covered. We had to do a Clorox and water treatment. They did fine after the treatment, but it was a scary sight…all those little green cocoons.
February is coming…I will be posting more frequently as the season progresses. Here’s hoping for a non-crazy weather year!
Notes for October 10, 2015
It’s harvest time for us. Time to see what’s in our boxes and straws and get an idea of what the year was like for our mason bees. It was a tough year, judging from the amount of parasitic wasps, dead bee cocoons, and blossom mites. Unusual heat probably added to the stress and parasites. We had a good crop of bees, but I’m really glad we did a harvest, otherwise all those mites and wasps would be released next spring. Clean, healthy cocoons are what you need to strive for when raising mason bees. Think of it as raising any animal in a restricted environment. If you want to keep the bees around, it pays to pay attention.
After we harvest the cocoons, we use the water method to clean them. Crown Bees has a good document on this and it’s pretty simple. I use a large bowl filled halfway with cool water and a fine kitchen strainer. Put up to 100 cocoons in the strainer, swish in cool water, using the kitchen sprayer to forcefully spray the cocoons at the same time. Do this for about 30 seconds…enough time to remove the dirt and debris. The dirt and debris you can throw out. If you have a lot of it, I’m not sure it’s good for your drain. The cocoons are tough and water resistant and can take a lot of cleaning. Spread them out on a clean paper towel. I place another paper towel over them to keep them from blowing away. They will be dry in a couple hours, or the next day. We didn’t find any disease (chalk brood) on our cocoons, but if we did, we would need to treat the boxes with chlorine and water and carefully dispose of the infected cocoons. Another equally acceptable method for cleaning is to process them in dry or wet sand and then wash the same way. The abrasion of the sand thoroughly cleans the cocoons. We may try this method next year.
At this point, they should be refrigerated. The main issue with refrigeration is that today’s refrigerators are frost free. Cocoons need the humidity to be around 60 percent, so it’s great for us, but bad for the cocoons. To counter this, the solution is to put the cocoon container in the vegetable drawer with a barely moist towel (not touching the cocoons). There are containers you can buy to solve this issue where you find your mason bee supplies. Sometimes they get too moist, or pick up bacteria from sources in the fridge, so check for mold. A little mold won’t hurt, but to remove it, a gentle swishing in chlorine and water for a few seconds then a good rinsing in cool water will bring them back to their former glory. Don’t forget to dry them on a paper towel. Our solution turned out to be simple. We have a small travel trailer, and the refrigerator is non frost free. When we travel, they will have to go to a temporary refrigerator, (sort of like putting your dog in the kennel) but for now they are at 36 degrees and about 60 percent humidity. I feel like we have tucked them in to bed for a long sleep. Sweet dreams little bees…see you next spring.
Notes for July 4th, 2015
We pulled our mason bee straws and inserts a couple of weeks ago being careful to handle them in the proper way. We still had a couple mason bees working their nesting area, so some of the eggs were newly laid and fragile. We didn’t want any to dislodge from their food source. I was surprised that the bees were still working at this late date, but we did have a wet and cool spring, so it probably extended their life a bit since they didn’t do a lot of flying in April. The spreadsheet that we kept helped identify the active and not so active days.
When we pulled the boxes, we notice a lot of parasitic wasp activity. It was a good idea to put them safely in a large container with metal window screening as a barrier. We have mice also, thus the “metal window screening” as opposed to plastic. Our bees are currently tucked away in an open shed out of the direct sun, but in shade. The temperature, while not blazing hot, is warm enough and seems to mimic a wooded area. It should keep the development from egg to larva to bee moving along at a normal pace. Our weather has been hot and dry for the month of June and now we are going into July and August, our normally hot and dry months. I am glad they are safely in their summer “sleeping area” where they can develop and finally form those wonderful cocoons that I so look forward to harvesting in the fall.
Some folks leave their bees out in nature to develop on their own, and for our first couple years we did that also. It was easy and after all, that’s what they did “in the wild”. However, “in the wild” when the holes they are using get too filled with mites and parasites, they leave and find another home. If you want to keep your bees around, a better idea is to manage your bees. Protect them during the summer, harvest during the fall and manage their hibernation during the winter. We will be harvesting our cocoons around the first of October. I’ve heard of some harvest happening the last of August, but for me, that’s too early. October is when temperatures turn cool, so it’s more of a natural time to switch to refrigeration.
Thanks to all the good people who rented and fostered our bees for us. We had a good year!
Notes for today May 15, 2015
We’ve done a lot of experimenting and record keeping this year with our bees. It’s been a mixed bag as far as weather goes, so that’s the good news and the bad news. Last year was (evidently) a phenomenal year for hatching and egg laying. This year has been interesting. We had a warm very early spring and the hatch and bloom happened last of February and first of March. We released a second and third hatch at different times. Everything bloomed early and we are now in a time when the major blooms seem to be done for early spring and the later major blooms (think blackberry in this area) are just starting. I’m not sure what they are getting for nectar, but it’s not as much as was out in the early spring.
We put our boxes out on poles, trees, fences, and buildings. We put them facing south and east, in the shade, in the woods, and out in the open, trying to get a sense of what they like when they hatch and what makes them move “to greener pastures”. We tracked them every day for hatching and for filling tubes, creating a spreadsheet and graphs. Nothing is a sure bet (these ARE wild bees after all), but there are some trends that we are finding (your findings may be different).
They don’t like fences or posts out in the open. THEY HATE WIND, and I think they may feel insecure in open areas. They prefer boxes near or in wooded areas, or on the side of a building. Facing south or east works for getting them warm in the spring, just make sure trees aren’t creating total shade. You can attach a box to a large tree if it doesn’t leaf out until later in the spring. The bees will leave if they don’t have mud nearby. One box (not our installation) was placed in an area that had plenty of sun and ample forage but no mud (blacktop) within 50 feet and they left without even saying “goodbye”. If they fly away, they’ve found a more preferred spot, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t come back sometime during the spring, so keep the box up. Also, keep a spare box and some straws available. They will be looking for homes in all the wrong places and you may be able to put up a box in the space they are investigating. I have one half filled box in my greenhouse from a couple of my “girls” that liked the warm temps. Hatching and nest building happened on a massive scale during warm sunny days. During cooler days, with or without drizzle, they maintained their own food stores, but anything else slowed to a crawl.
We are still getting late hatchings, and I am getting close to opening the cocoons to help them out. It’s long enough in the season that either they are not alive or don’t have the energy to chew out of their cocoons. More experimenting to come! This season may not end until mid June when the activity stops.
Notes for Today, April 26, 2015
We’ve had a couple of days of sun and it did make a difference with the hatch and egg laying. During one of the sunny warm days I opened the top to our flip top boxes and watched 4 bees hatch out at one time. Quite a sight. Now that we are back to cool and drizzly everything has slowed to a crawl again and we are seeing very little activity. Looking on the positive side of this, I know that they are able to get out and forage for their own nourishment, so they are not starving. Actually, if the weather was so bad they couldn’t fly, the females would start absorbing their own eggs, allowing them to live to “fly” another day. It reduces the number of eggs they can lay, but they will still live to lay the remainder of what they have. Another positive note to all this cool drizzle we are getting is it allows for a longer season. Because they aren’t flying as much, there is much less wear and tear on their wings and they tend to last a bit longer. All that positive drivel being said, I am really hoping for warmer, dryer, sunnier weather.
We release in batches at our house, and with the number of bees we have, we can afford to do so. If you have just a few bees, it doesn’t pay to split your hatch. Our earliest release was the 1st of March, and I am starting to see our “boys” die off. Some of them will come back to the nesting area and I see them when I open our flip box. It’s a sad sight (never thought I’d say that), but they’ve done their job and lived their short lives. “Rest in Peace” little bee…at least you didn’t get eaten by that darned blue jay!
Notes for April 14, 2015
It’s been cool and rainy in Northwest Oregon and Southwest Washington for the last few days. The bees are slowed to a crawl when it comes to hatching and laying their eggs. We’ve been checking on them by looking in the nesting straws and boxes at night with an LED light. Their little backends show up really well…my husband calls this “butts in the holes” (pardon the expression). With the next week showing sunny and warm, we have high hopes for a lot of activity.
So how gentle are these bees, really? Last week my husband and son were working on putting up a side porch. They had to drill through concrete, so it was a lot of noise and activity within a foot of one of the bee boxes. My son’s head was literally a foot from the box entrance. During the 15 minutes he worked in the area, bees flew out and one at a time, “head butted” him to try and push him away but never stung him. We finished the drilling and the bees just kept working on building their nests. GOOD GIRLS!