Saturday, April 5, 2008

Backyard Bees

My Mason Bees are busy! The past couple of days have been warm and sunny and a large number of bees have chewed their way out of their cocoons. The native Mason Bee is a solitary bee, not a hive dweller like the familiar honeybee. Last year, females laid eggs in the holes in this bee nest block, sealed the holes with mud and then died. They only live the one season but lay many eggs to ensure a population for the following year.

Crooked but sturdy.

The eggs hatch and feed on the pollen and nectar the female has left for them. They go through their various insect stages and finally become adult bees while still inside the nest block. They spin a sturdy cocoon around themselves by the fall and then go dormant for the winter.

It's at this time that you can open up your nest block, scrape out the cocoons and wash them off to rid them of parasitic mites which, over time, can decimate a colony. You can also remove any dead bees or cocoons parasitized by wasps. I cleaned my cocoons last winter and also cleaned out the nest chambers, which are full of mud and pollen and bee poop.

Dirty cocoons

Soaking cocoons

Sparkling clean cocoons!

I used half of an Altoids tin to store them in the top of the shelter and knew they would emerge from hibernation when they were good and ready (ie; when it's warm enough).

The shelter my nest block is in has interlocking beams on the roof and there's a space there just big enough for a bee. I came home Thursday night to find a bee butt in each hole.

Looking closer I saw one was facing out. Look at his cute face! It's a male because of the white on the face.

So why do I keep these bees? I never would have been interested in these bees if the store I work for hadn't started selling supplies to start your own colony. Non-native Honeybees are suffering hive collapse and native bees can always use a helping hand. Most folks want the bees for increasing fruit production on their trees but I just want to watch these gentle bees live their life in my small yard. The bonus is the crops of my apple tree and two blueberry bushes have definitely increased. The bees pollinate many plants but fruit trees are their favorites.

I mentioned their gentle nature.....the night I photographed the bee butts I kept hearing a soft buzzing and finally realized a little male bee was caught in my hair! Did he sting? Nope. I worked him out of my hair, he landed on my shirt for a minute then took off for a last minute flight before finding a spot to set his bee butt down for the night.

You, too, can host these bees in your country or urban yards. Every plant needs a pollinator!


NW Nature Nut said...

Good post. I feel like I should have a clever, witty reply to the label on the photo "crooked, but sturdy". The close up of the male bee was great!

Anonymous said...

Great posting! I've got to get some bees here in Berkeley.

hscott said...

Great info & photos. Thanks!

Beverly said...

Wow...what a fun site you have here; I love learning new stuff! I've actually been looking into getting some bees and in doing so found this:
It's a link from High Country Gardens in New Mexico, which has started selling really cool bee-nests (not unlike yours).

But my question is with regard to this statement I found there: "These bees are not affected by the mite that has devastated the honey bee population in the United States..." It appears you've found it otherwise?

Beverly said...

Laura responded:

Hi Beverly,
Regarding the mites on the mason bees....I don't think they're the same ones that have decimated honeybee hives. Every animal has its parasites and being overloaded will kill them so that's the reason for washing off your cocoons. I get my bee info from My store buys much of our bee supplies from her and we feel she's an authority!
The washing of the cocoons helps the overall health and longevity of your colony and is much easier to do when you have a bee with a one season lifetime....honeybees aren't going to let you anywhere near their babies or their hive to do such a strange thing to them!
So that's what I know.....hope it helps! ...Laura

Thanks a bunch, Laura! I really like the idea of adding bee-houses to the other critter habitats I like to put up. I was sad to discover one of the big ol' red-backed bees I have in my yard dround in my dog's water. [sigh] I'm going to have to look into washing cocoons...I wouldn't want to drown 'em!