- Frequently Asked Questions
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- MASON BEES:
- How many nesting holes do you have? 1 cocoon per nesting hole
- 1 tree = 10 cocoons = 10 nesting holes
- 25 holes will support ±12 nesting females and 10-15 fruit trees under bloom at one time
- In an orchard, you'd want about 1,000 cocoons for about 100 trees.
- We recommend at a minimum 20 cocoons to start with. Many gardeners start out with fewer cocoons, but don’t see much activity.
- What is great about mason bees is that the number of bees laid grows each year. This year's bees are laying next year's bees for you. In general, you should be able to double your bees each year.
- In an alfalfa field, farmers place out about 20-30,000 leafcutter bees per acre. This is a lot of bees, but equally, is a lot of pollination needed at one time.
- For a backyard, whether a small lot in a city, or a half an acre in the suburbs, about 100 cocoons is fine.
- MASON BEES:
- By March-April, mason bees are about ready to finish hibernating and need just a few hours at a warm temperature to begin emerging. Stored in a refrigerator, they may have run out of stored fats and will nibble out of their cocoons.
- If your plants are not ready to feed the emerged bees: Keep the emerged bees in a HumidiBee within your refrigerator. To provide energy until the blossoms open, soak a cotton ball in a solution made of 1 part sweetener (Karo corn syrup, granulated sugar, or honey) and 1 part water. Put the soaked cotton ball into the HumidiBee and put the HumdiBee in a paper sack to keep it dark.
- No worries! This simply is a sign that your bees are eager to make their way outdoors. Follow the instructions included with your bees for placement in your yard or garden.
- MASON BEES:
- In the wild, when daytime temperatures are at about 55°F (13°C), the males will emerge from their cocoons. This is usually around the same time as cherry trees bloom.
- Generally, males emerge first and females follow anywhere from one-three days, to two weeks later. We sometimes see females emerge three to four weeks after the males emerge.
- If you are keeping bees in your refrigerator, bees may emerge even at low 35-40 degrees temperatures. This is due to them running out of stored fats and they must emerge to feed.
- When releasing bees, watch for 2 elements to coincide: average daytime temperatures in the low to mid-50°F (or warmer) AND the presence of OPEN blossoms in your yard or orchard.
- Bees will emerge hungry and fly off in search of pollen and nectar to replenish their depleted fats and bolster their energy. A weak bee will gain nothing from a tightly closed bud.
- Emerge when temperatures are 75°F/25°C or warmer (typically May through July). Leafcutter bees overwinter as larva and utilize warm spring or early summer temps to resume development.
- In a controlled incubation environment (85°F/29°C) males will begin to emerge after approx. 21 days. Crown Bees incubates all leafcutter bee cocoons and ships cocoons for immediate placement outdoors.
- At a consistent 70°F/21°C temperature, it will take approximately 6 weeks before the 1st male emerges.
- If you incubate them at home it can take between 4-7 weeks for the bees to finish development. Consistent warm temperatures determine the amount of time it takes for the bees to develop.
- BOTH BEES: Remember that the bees need the warmth of the morning sun to gain energy to begin flying but cocoons should not be placed in direct sunlight. Too much exposure to hot, direct sunlight can harm or kill a bee cocoon. Our instructions are to place the bee cocoons inside of the bee house, out of direct sunlight.
- MASON BEES: Have patience. Your bees, if viable, want to emerge and pollinate. If you have trees, berries, flowers, or vegetables in bloom, and no emerged bees, then bring a portion inside to your warm house. Keep them in a tight container overnight and the warm temperatures indoors will cue them to begin emergence. Cool the container in your refrigerator for about 5 minutes to slow the bees down for easier handling. Now, release them on top of or behind your nesting material or somewhere within your bee house. Or, be patient and let the bees come out on their own outdoors. The choice is yours!
- LEAFCUTTER BEES: Have patience. Cold weather can slow your bees’ development, or it may be possible that you have dehydrated them if temperatures were too hot. Try carefully opening a leafy cocoon and see what the bee looks like inside. If white, then it hasn't developed enough and needs more time. If the larva or bee is dried up, then it dehydrated.
- Here are a few signs of activity:
- If you see empty cocoon husks, your bees have left.
- If you see beige drops where your cocoons were, that's meconium, a metabolic waste that the bees poop out after they emerge from their cocoons.
- The bees typically nest overnight in the nesting holes. Shine a flashlight down the holes at night to count noses or tails.
- Bees will emerge hungry and will fly off to forage. Males will typically return after replenishing their lost fats in search of females and mating will begin.
- MASON BEES: In a busy orchard with 60,000 honeybees pollinating 100 trees, you see honey bees everywhere. In that same orchard with only 400 mason bees, you have to look carefully and be patient. The bees are gathering pollen from all sources as busily as possible.
LEAFCUTTER BEES: You may not see leafcutter bees on your blooms but if you are having a bumper crop of summer fruit and vegetables (and you did nothing else differently this season) then you know that the bees have been doing their job.
- Unfortunately, you can't. However, you'll have the solitary bee house with nesting holes in it, and the bees will have to fly past your blooming trees, berries, flowers and vegetables to get to their yard. Encourage your neighbor to learn what you're doing and suggest that they install a bee house as well. If you can, split the results each winter. After all, both of you are reaping the rewards of these awesome pollinators.
- Bees are moving pollen from the anthers to the stigma and there is nothing magical about this process. You can pollinate your plants by hand with the following recommendations.
- For Fruit Trees: You can move the pollen yourself by wearing mittens and moving your hand up and down branches. Although tedious, this simple act will pollinate your fruit trees.
- For Vegetables: You can paint the blossoms on your vegetables with a small brush to accomplish pollination. Remember to move pollen between like plants, ie from squash to squash, from tomato to tomato.
- To know what you're doing versus what your bees are doing, only hand-pollinate a few branches or vegetable plants and mark these with a ribbon. Analyze your results when you harvest!
- Solitary bees prefer to nest in a house that is stationary and does not move. For this reason we do not recommend that their house be hung from a wire or rope.
- Carefully consider the location of your bee house, locating it where it will receive early morning sun if possible. Do not move the house until that season’s activity is finished.
- Solitary bees have a very refined sense of exactly where their specific hole is located. If their nesting hole is moved, they may nest elsewhere.
- If you must, you can safely move a bee house before bees emerge or after the bees have finished nesting.
- If you need to add nesting holes for your bees, add them on top of the existing holes.
- You can carefully replace full nesting holes with unused nesting holes, though be careful not to shift nesting holes too much.
- Wait about a week after the bees have completed their work and carefully move your tubes, reeds, or wood trays.
- Make sure to keep the capped end (filled with mud or leaves) facing up. The eggs have mostly hatched and are busy consuming the pollen loaf within their nesting chambers. Storing the nesting holes with the capped end facing up helps ensure that the larvae are not squashed by their own pollen loaf and it also helps ensure that they can still reach their pollen loaf.
- When mason bee activity ceases (typically mid-June or earlier depending on when cocoons were placed outdoors) remove nesting tubes, reeds, or trays from the bee house and store in a BeeGuardian bag for protection from predators. Place the bag in a protected garage or shed. Nesting holes can remain here, allowing bees to develop over the summer months. DO NOT put mason bee nesting material in the refrigerator over the summer. They will not develop into bees! Which pesticide, fungicide, or larvicide, is ok to use around bees? Harvest the cocoons in the fall.
- When leafcutter bee activity ceases (typically early to mid-September) nesting holes can be removed and stored in a protected garage or shed with the open or leaf-plugged end of hole facing up. Nesting holes can remain here until early spring when cocoons can and should be harvested.
- It is best to avoid the use of chemicals that disrupt the natural balance of your yard. We have resources and tips on alternatives to chemicals. However, if you must, absolutely must, use a targeted chemical to control a pest, disease, or fungus, do so in the evening when your bees are tucked in their nesting holes. Cover the front of the house if necessary. You may want to restrict bee activity for a day or so after application and consult the label of your chemical to see if it states the length that the chemical is active.
- While there is still debate among environmentalists, researchers, and chemical companies about the effects of neonicotinoids (also known as neonics) on bees, our stance is that natural is best. There have been recent studies on traditionally managed bees (like honey and bumblebees) that shows that neonics interfere with a bee’s ability to learn to to feed from complex plants, to remember where home is, and ability to reproduce. Neonics have been shown to reduce fertility in both male and female bees.
We do not recommend using chemicals in a yard because they can place our local ecology out of balance. We believe when both prey and predator are in balance, our ecosystem is healthy. When you remove the pest, predators have no food source, and thus either starve or leave. When the pest shows up again, there seemingly is no recourse other than to reach out to the chemical shelf for a solution. This creates a costly chemical cycle in your yard and garden. Avoiding chemicals may appear to tip the balance to the side of too many pests, but predators will find the pests and your yard will return to balance within a few years at most.
- While drilled blocks of wood, bamboo and plastic straws are inexpensive and easy DIY projects, they are unhealthy nesting materials for native bees.
- They may seem like a new fad, but they are "old technology" that winds up becoming obsolete within a few years due to pest buildup within each drilled hole.
- The best way to care for solitary bees is to harvest their cocoons in order to remove pests and disease.
- Crown Bees does not support the use of drilled blocks of wood, bamboo or plastic straws as nesting material because they do not fall within what we consider to be best management practices. We recommend nesting material that allows air exchange and can be harvested.
- We strongly suggest that you shift to EasyTear tubes, reeds, or wood trays. These nesting materials allow you to harvest mason bees in September/October and your leafcutter bees in late winter/early spring. Harvesting your cocoons allows you to observe problems which in turn enable you to maintain and improve the health of your bees.
- Learn how to shift your bees out of drilled blocks of wood and bamboo before the next season begins.
- One of several things typically is going wrong.
- The nesting holes are the wrong size or in the wrong location.
- There isn't adequate pollen nearby.
- The bees couldn't find adequate nesting substrates. Mason bees use clayey mud and leafcutters use soft leaves and petals.
- There has been some sort of chemical application nearby that caused the bees to move on.
- Yes, studies have shown that the presence of other bee species changes honey bee behavior and actually makes them better pollinators. Mason and leafcutter bees are not interested in harming honeybees and the same goes for honey bees (unless a strange bee accidentally enters the honey bee hive). If you are raising both kinds of bees we suggest that you place their houses with enough space between them so that you can check in on your solitary bees as needed. A solitary bee house should be placed at eye level and you will want to be able to stand and watch their activity without having to put on a protective beekeeper’s suit. Not having to wear protective gear is one of the benefits of raising solitary bees and you should take advantage of this fact.
- These holes are evidence of a small gnat-sized parasitic wasp known as mono. Mono predation can be avoided by removing nesting tubes from the outdoors when mason bee activity ceases and storing them in a protected garage or shed over the summer. Mono activity increases as the spring and summer temps increase. Natural reeds are the best nesting material to deter these pests. See our Pests, Chemicals & Drilled Wood page for more information about this common mason bee pest.
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