mason bees revisited

Remember the Mason bees from this post (Pollinator 2.0) in the spring? They're baaack! sort of.

October is harvest time for Mason bee keepers -- translation? clean out the nesting tubes, separate the cocoons from the other stuff and keep them in the fridge till spring.

You might be wondering (as we did) why we can't just leave them be, let nature take its course -- certainly they survive in the wild without all this fuss! The simple reason is that their survival rates are so much better this way -- otherwise they are susceptible to predators and diseases. After all, the whole point of putting nesting tubes in the yard was to foster dwindling pollinator numbers; we may as well do what we can to ensure their success.

Step 1 -- remove the tubes from the box, separate the filled ones from the unfilled ones (the photo is deceiving as it shows the back end of the tubes -- these are the empty ones).

Step 2 -- from the filled tubes, separate any suspicious-looking ones, i.e. ones with tiny holes in them like this.... we only had two.

Step 3 -- remove the mud plug at the open end of the tube.

Step 4 -- unravel the tube to empty the contents. This includes mud, uneaten pollen, larva poop, mites and cocoons.

It's a bit like Christmas.

Step 5 -- brush the cocoons clean -- they can be washed if necessary, but after reading up on it, we decided ours looked healthy enough to not require it. We kept the cocoons from the suspicious tubes in a separate (smaller) pile.

Step 6 -- place the cocoons in containers, with air holes, and in the crisper of the fridge (as they need some moisture and most fridges are quite dry).

That's it till spring!

The stats:  from an investment of 20 cocoons last spring, we harvested 48 cocoons this fall. Not a bad return!


  1. Older Sister of Your Man22 October 2013 at 08:31

    So totally cool!! You more than doubled your investment!!

    This spring, I, wearing my Conservation Hat, was approached by a grad student wanting to do mason bee research on properties that I am responsible for. I said - ABSOLUTELY! She installed nest boxes throughout those properties. The next boxes she used were made of 5" or 6" pvc pipe and - here's the interesting thing - the tubes she was using were all different sizes. I asked her why that was, since the only example I had prior to this was from DoOver and Your Man. She told me that mason bees come in all different sizes and so the varying diameter tubes were replicating what they needed in nature.

    Anyway, the mason bee story will go on as I find out more about the grad student's work, and yours, over time.

    Thanks for this post - I'd been wondering how your bees had done over the year.


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