mason bees

Discussion in 'Fruit and Vegetable Gardening' started by scottg, Mar 21, 2007.

  1. scottg

    scottg Active Member

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    Location:
    White Rock, BC - coastal
    We have purchased about 40 mason bees to help with pollinating our fruit trees and garden this year. Last year the cherry, apple, pear and plum did not do well as most if not all fruit fell shortly after bloom or did not form at all. Also had a problem with peppers and acorn, zuccini & butternut squash not forming fruit (tomatoes did great).

    As we are rookies in dealing with bees, I did purchase a helpfull book by Dr Margriet Dogterom to help get me started but I have a couple questions..

    1 - Am I on the right track at all here? Will this help with the plants / trees I listed?

    2 - How long will the bees be active? Will they be around long enough to be able to pollenate my garden or should I concider releasing more later in the spring?

    3 - I got no bees popping out of my cocoons yet : ( I am assuming this is because it hasnt warmed up enough, it hasnt been warmer that 12-13 degrees on any given day, usualy well under 10 degrees. Is this too early to put them out?

    4 - Is 40 bee's enough? I understand that I should have about 50% females and am hoping the two houses I put out may attract more to nest as well. Our property is about 1200 sf, all the trees and garden are concentrated in the back half of that.

    Thanks!
     
  2. silver_creek

    silver_creek Active Member

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    Location:
    Bellingham, WA, usa
    Mason bees will help your fruit trees. It is not too early to put them out, as they will emerge along with the fruit tree blossoms. Put your new nest blocks on a south facing wall, under an eave if possible, to attract the most new bees. Mason bees will not help much with your veggie blossoms as they are usually dormant by the time those bloom.
     
  3. Anne58

    Anne58 Active Member

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    Location:
    Burnaby, BC
    I've been keeping mason bees for about 5 years now. They stay outside all winter and as you mentioned they don't 'hatch' until temperatures are above 10 deg (for males, warmer for females)

    It's probably going to be difficult to postpone the hatching of the bees unless you have a cold storage area to store the cocoons and I'm not sure what a prolonged dormant period would do to your mortality. The bees spend most of their life in a cocoon living on food reserves they built up prior to pupating and eventually those stores will run out. . . .

    The females should come out around the same time as the fruit trees flower (hence their other name: Blue Orchard Bees) but they will be gone by some time in May so they will do no pollinating of the vegetable plants, you will have to rely on the regular honey and bumble bees for those plants.

    40 bees should be enough to get you started. When I started with my 'colony' I attracted 1 single bee from the local area. We now have quite a substantial colony and 3 nesting boxes each holding approx 90 straws. The siding on the house serves as an overflow for nesting :o)
     
  4. scottg

    scottg Active Member

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    Good info Anne & Silver creek. Thanks!

    I have read that you can keep the cocoons in the fridge if you keep the temperature / humidity in a certain range. This would help to keep them around a bit later and possibly help with the vegitable garden. Wondering if anyone has had success with squashes, peppers, tomatoes etc with mason bees to any extent? If so was this with the natural life cycle or did you extend hibernation some how?
     
  5. skeeterbug

    skeeterbug Active Member

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    Location:
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    Squash are often pollinated by a squash bee, but if you want or have the time you can pollinate them yourself.

    Skeet
     
  6. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Location:
    Langley B.C. Canada
    We have had blue orchard bees (mason bees) for three summers now. I really believe they have made our fruit yield much greater, and I would also say that they helped some of the early flowering vegetables. 40 is a lot to start with. You will have tons of the little rascals at the end of the summer. Please read the thread (search mason bees) where one member talks about mites. There are many predators including the chalcid wasp. To avoid the chalcid wasp you can wrap fine mesh (.04 inches or 1mm) around the straws, or take the straws or house for that matter, away and place in a space not accessible to the chalcid wasp. Be careful moving the house however. It must remain in the same orientation as to when the bees were laying their eggs. Then in the winter time, as described in other threads on this site, take the bees out from the straws, wash, and then candle them to see if the cocoon contains hairy fingered mites, bees or some other type of insect. You can wash the cocoons to remove the mites hanging on them as they are very sturdy. (Use an old wire sieve) After candling, let them dry and then place them in match size boxes ready for the next year. You can tell the males from the females as a female is much bigger. There is an excellent reference book which I bought at an apple fair in Fort Langley last summer. How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee by Jordi Bosch and William Kemp ISBN 1-888626-06-2 Highly recommended. dt
     
  7. cgjedi

    cgjedi Active Member

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    Location:
    Surrey, Canada
    I recently bought a house in a new development (north Cloverdale). Used to be farmland but it's been "scraped clean" for all the houses. I'm sure there used to be lots of mason bees around.

    I want to make sure the bee population comes back and have set up some mason bee houses. As of yet, there have been no bees moving in. I'm not sure if it's the cold spring we've had or if the new development has destroyed all the existing populations. Does anyone have some tips or info on what I can do?
     
  8. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Location:
    Langley B.C. Canada
    Have you bought some bees and placed them below the house or are you waiting for the wild bees to find the house and use them? It sounds like you are waiting for the populations to return. If you have bought bees and placed the box below the house, they will come out, fly away (Oh NO! where have they gone?) but they return and start doing what they are suppose to do -- polinate the flowers, and then lay eggs. If you are waiting for wild bees to appear you may or may not receive some guests depending upon wild populations looking for housing in your area. Theoritically,they should be around as they are a indigenous species. Keep an eye open for action around the houses --but beware, other wasps and bees like the houses as well.
    dt
     
  9. cgjedi

    cgjedi Active Member

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    Last year the bee house did not get any guests from the wild at all. This year I bought some bee cocoons in March and put them in the fridge for storage. It was still frosting out until well past March here in the Vancouver area so I didn't put them out until 2nd week of April. It's been 3 weeks now and they still haven't hatched. Can anyone here in the Lower Mainland confirm that their mason bees are out by now? If not, maybe the ones I bought are dead for some reason.
     
  10. Anne58

    Anne58 Active Member

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    Location:
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    I can confirm that the mason bees are indeed out now. The males were out around the beginning of April but the females have only appeared in the last week or so. I've also noticed that the 'return' of bees is down substantially this year (at least with our group).

    Normally by this time of the year during the mid-day warmth the area around the nesting boxes is like traffic central, this year there are only a couple of females. We lost a lot of coccoons to parasitic wasps and last years batch of females didn't seem to have a lot of success in producing viable cells -- either the cells were filled with pollen mites or the baby bee larva never completed their life cycle. This was observed when the straws were unrolled and the contents removed.

    Maybe as a result of the weather we had last spring or maybe it is a cyclical phenomena.
     
  11. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Location:
    Langley B.C. Canada
    We have had BOBS for about 4 years now. Yes, and this year is slower. We didn't even place them in their outdoor houses until a couple of weeks ago. We have noticed slow action as well but they have chewed through the tissue door my husband places on their matchbox houses (which in turn are placed on a shelf in their wooden houses). I think it is simply a poor year --late blooming for everything, it seems. In terms of mites and other predators, I would strongly suggest you wash your cocoons in the winter, and then candle them. The first year we didn't know to do this and had lots of mites the following year. Now that we have been washing and then candling, we do not have wasps nor mite problems. They are around..... dont' worry. They know when to come out. Our Pears and Nashi are in bloom in Langley, but not our apple trees, so maybe they're waiting for something better than pears. In general, honey bees, and I assume mason bees as well don't care for pear blossoms.
     
  12. cgjedi

    cgjedi Active Member

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    I wanted to give an update. The Vancouver area just had a nice week of warmer weather (end April/beginning May) and the bees have all hatched. This was very good news.

    However, none of them have hung around the house. They are all gone. The house is east facing, protected and has straws 6" long. I haven't read anywhere that this happens. Did they perhaps not like the conditions and have found a more suitable nesting site?
     
  13. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Location:
    Langley B.C. Canada
    Don't forget that the males hatch first and wait around. Then the females come out. It could be that they are waiting and flying around hoping the females come out. We live in next-door communities, so if ours are out and about, yours will soon be. If your nesting house is made of the straws or carved out wooden channels into the wood the size of straws and you placed their little match box under or near the nesting house they should go back to it. Why look for something when someone has placed a house "just right" for them nearby.
    If you're worried that they haven't hatched, open the matchbox and look inside. Just don't drop them (like my husband did one time). dt
     
  14. dino

    dino Active Member

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    Location:
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    Another great thread. I love this forum.

    Here in central Alberta, I'm still "lurking", waiting for some folks to declare success with BOBs (Blue Orchard Bees) east of the Rockies.

    For Scottg: here you can freely download what I've been told is the definitive manual on BOBs, HTH:
    http://www.ars.usda.gov/research/programs/programs.htm?np_code=305&docid=15012

    I suspect it's the same book that Denise cited (by Bosch & Kemp).

    Here in a suburb of Edmonton it still is a crazy, mixed up spring, and has been since April. Temperatures are much like a bride's nightie. Yet somehow, plants and insects don't seem to be reacting adversely. I had an extraordinarily heavy bloom of sour cherry, chokecherry, plum, Saskatoon, red & black currants, jostaberry and crabapple. And pollinators are around in greater numbers and varieties than I've seen in recent years.
    My single Evans Cherry is warily choosing from a huge bud-set to open only a few dozen buds at a time. First year I see that.
    Finally: our soil is very dry. Our premier declared today that if we don't get some serious BC weather soon, we're going to have a dismal crop year.

    dino
     
  15. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Location:
    Langley B.C. Canada
    Even in Lotus Land, we have had some weird weather all winter --cold, snow, warm, rain, repeated several times. As a result many of our more delicate and not so delicate shrubs have perished. And this could apply to other insects too. And interestingly, the weather we've had this spring has been up and down as well (ref to above nightie) As a result, we've noticed that some of the bees didn't make it out of their match boxes. Our theory is that they began to wake up when the weather was warm, but then the weather turned cool and the little ones didn't have enough reserve to wake again and again and go on their merry way. Does this seem possible?
     
  16. Pasquale

    Pasquale Active Member

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    Location:
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    Denise
    Your description of cool-worm- weather and the emerging bees is accurate: some do die.
    This year I think it was better than last for Mason Bees, several friends reported of full house. One thing to note is this: In my experience here in the lower mainland on everage only ONE in five bees that you release will stay and reproduce, three will be male and die soon after mating, of the two remaining female, one will stay and the other will either fly way or remain pray to some hungry bird. In good years the eqution change a bit, perheps 4to1.
     
  17. tallclover

    tallclover Member

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    Location:
    Vashon Island, Washington
    I started making Mason Orchard Bee Nests a whole new way; one that was simple, involved recycling and allowed me to use a plant in my garden. I simply cut bamboo reeds and let them dry and place in tin can like straws. The bees love them.

    Here's link to more detail on my blog: http://tallcloverfarm.com/?p=224
     

    Attached Files:

  18. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Dear Tallclover,
    I'm wondering how easy it is to get the bees out of the bamboo. In my experience, bamboo is very strong and tough and cutting it is challenging. I could see if they were reeds -- like ones you find in ditches or lake shore, but actual bamboo????
     
  19. tallclover

    tallclover Member

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    Hi Denise, you are absolutely right; the bamboo is too strong to break into, but I find no need to open them and disturb the bee cocoons. I just pull out the bamboo reed from the can and place among other bamboo reeds in a new can in new location. It's my little starter kit for the new location. Each year I get more and more bees. It was a bit slow the first couple years, seemed like I didn't get a whole lot of nesting bees, but things are turning around with the practice of adding more nest sites and introducting a couple full bee bamboos to each.
     
  20. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    Have you had any problems with mites or chalcid wasps? We take our bees out, wash the cocoons, the candle them to make sure they are no wasps ready and waiting to eat our bees. A bit more work, but less destruction to the cocoons.
    dt
     
  21. tallclover

    tallclover Member

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    Denise that sounds like a really good plan and technique, but my current list of things to do around the farm here is laughable, so unfortunately my mason orchard bees are on their own. ;-)
     
  22. Denise

    Denise Active Member

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    I empathize with you. Between my job, home, hobbies, land (only 1 acre) landscaping and gardening, we too, are swamped. But, during the winter holiday break, a couple friends and us get together to 'do bees'. take care.
     

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