Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Oops...

Having not checked the cocoons for a while I was concerned about the warmer weather we have gotten lately in Seattle.  It has been in the low 50's and I have been keeping the cocoons in my garage which is probably a few degrees warmer than the outside.  Males bees emerge first after a few consecutive days around 55 F.  Sure enough when I checked inside the cardboard box there was a least two male bees slowly crawling around.  I released them outside and placed the rest in my refrigerator.  Where the temp is in the low 40's.  I also placed a damp sponge nearby to keep the humidity slightly higher.  Unfortunately my vegetable crisper is too cold.  
If you are keeping your cocoons in an uncontrolled environment be sure to check them every now and then, and be mindful of the temperature they are experiencing. 
There are no flowers blooming yet and it would be a waste to release any this early in the year, at least here in the Pacific Northwest.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

2012 Cocoon cleaning and count

Today I decided to pry the cocoons from the trays, clean them, count them, then store them.  After loosening up the boxes a little the trays slid out nicely.
                                         
                                         Trays freed from the box

                                          The mess you will be greeted with.  Cocoons, mites, mud and other things.

This year I used a flat head screwdriver which worked very well at prying the cocoons from the block.  One stroke and the cocoons were freed as well as the dried mud.


I had two bowls of lukewarm water, one containing a small cap full of bleach.  By dumping the mix of cocoons and mud into the water you can easily separate what you want to keep and what you don't.  

 The bowl with bleach   The yellow color you see is the pollen staining the water.  Just soak for a few minutes and agitate slightly to knock off the mud, mites and pollen.

 Lukewarm fresh water with no bleach.  Rinse for a few minutes.

Another batch,  this one was covered in mites.  All those specks you see floating on the surface and very tiny mites.  


Dry them on a piece of paper towel.  

The process seems disruptive to the bees hibernation.  But I did this last year and had 96% survival with my cocoons.  This year the total number of cocoons comes to 297!   That is a 3 fold increase in number from last year.  I will be placing them in a cardboard box with clean paper towels and placing them in my garage for the winter.  


Summer time protection

At the beginning of summer you should notice a sharp decline in the number of adult bees.  The females work tirelessly for only a few weeks, gathering pollen and laying eggs.  I noticed after the activity had ended the the holes were being visited by other insect, the ones that worried me were parasitic wasp.  I decided to tape some nylon stocking fabric across the face to stop any harmful insect.  By this time the females were long gone.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

By the numbers

All the mason bee cocoons have been placed outside for about 2 weeks now.  I left out the release boxes so all would "hatch".
It turns out I had a 96% survival rate.  Out of 102 cocoons only 4 didn't make it.  And those are inside and could potentially still hatch.
96% seems like an excellent survival rate.  That includes the cocoons being teased from the trays, washed in a weak bleach solution and fresh water.  Then stored in an airtight cooler since November out in my garage.  I think this incredible survival rate can be attributed to the cleanliness of the houses, free of anything that might kill a young mason bee.  Some bees have been active now for about three weeks.  I already have 12 holes completely filled with eggs and mud in my tray houses.  Next October I hope to gather nearly 500 cocoons.  



                                                     
                                                       98 survivors vs. 4 non-survivors.


Two bees mating in the release box surrounded by discarded cocoons.  The releases boxes were also fun   to look into periodically and watch bees chewing through their cocoons.  

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Placing the cocoons

Placing the cocoons in the Spring one should look at the weather forecast.  I chose to place about 20 cocoons outside at one time when the weather would be in the high 50's for several days in a row.  After they "hatch" your job is done for a while.  Hopefully they have plenty of nearby pollen to collect.  Mason bees do not fly the long distances like honeybees.  



I made two release boxes last year out of some scrap wood.  So far the number of survivors seems to be pretty high.  And on warm days the houses and being swarmed by mason bees.  

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Removing the cocoons

Mid November I took the trays from the houses and removed the cocoons from the routed holes with a soft piece of plastic.  There was plenty of dirt, crap, and other insects hiding away in the holes.
There was also some dead mason bees that failed to spin their cocoons.  
But I ended up getting 102 cocoons this first season.  We will see how many survive come this spring.  
I have a cooler which I keep in the garage with the bee's placed in a dry soft cardboard box.  The temperature seems to be pretty constant somewhere in the low 40's.  However I may transfer them to the fridge later this winter.  The bees will begin to "hatch" once they sense three days or so in the low to mid 50's.  In Western Washington this can occur when there is plenty of winter left.  So regulating their environment is wise if you don't want them to release prematurely.  The bees are in a state of semi-hibernation so they are expending a little energy.  Too much time in a fridge or cooler and they will die.
Once spring begins I will probably release about 20 at a time in week long intervals.  
  
A dirty tray needing to be cleaned, an old toothbrush should suffice maybe with a very weak bleach solution.  


102 bee cocoons.  Most of these came from wild bees that were attracted naturally.  Can't wait to see how many make it.  


Something to keep the cocoons in.  Keep them cool 35°-45°, and with a relative humidity around 60%, which is more moist than most refrigerators.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Houses outside

Some other houses I have placed outside.  Both are facing South to South-East.  
It is important for mason bee houses to get early morning sun/warmth.  But it is also important to protect the houses from rain and wind.  Unfortunately in the Seattle area many weather patterns come from the South.  A good overhang should protect from rain.