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RAISE BEES | STEP BY STEP

Solitary hole-nesting bees are very easy-to-raise. Caring for them takes about an hour of your time per year! No hive or honey upkeep.

  • Approximate time commitment per year:
    • 15 min set up nesting house
    • 10 min bring inside to protect
    • 30 min to harvest cocoons

Solitary bees are easy-to-raise, but like all creatures they need a few things to thrive. Morning sun wakes and gives bees the warmth and energy to start flying. Native flowers for forage (food) are best, and bees are happiest if they have a variety of flowers blooming throughout the season. Our well-designed bee houses and nesting materials provide quality shelter and nesting holes. Another component for bee-raising success is nearby nest-building materials: clayey mud for mason bees, leaves for leafcutter bees.

Seasonal Timeline
 WHENSPRING MASON BEESSUMMER LEAFCUTTER BEESWHEN
 Early Spring

Place out 8mm nesting holes or 8mm reusable wooden trays.

Place out 6mm nesting holes or 6mm reusable wooden trays.

Late Spring
 Spring 55°F/13°C

Release cocoons on top of or behind nesting holes when blossoms are open and daytime temps are at least 55°F/13°C. If needed: place out moist clayey mud, keep the mud source moist.

Release incubated cocoons on top of nesting holes when blossoms are open and daytime temps are 75°F/24°C. Purchased cocoons: we begin the incubation process for you, but the larvae may need more time in warm weather to finish developing.

Summer 
75°F/24°C 

 Spring 55&deg +;F/13°CWait and watch. Males emerge first. The larger females can take up to two weeks to emerge.Wait and watch. The green-eyed males emerge first. Black-eyed females can take up to two weeks to emerge.Summer 
75°F/24°C
 SpringFemales gather pollen and nectar, lay eggs, seal egg chambers with clayey-mudFemales make cocoons from leaves or petals. A second generation may emerge if summer conditions are right. Summer
 

Late Spring

Collect nesting holes and with capped ends face-up, place into a BeeGuardian bag. Store in a warm, protected location.
Collect nesting holes and with capped ends face-up, place into a BeeGuardian bag. Store in a cool, protected location.
Fall
 OctoberHarvest cocoons in the fall: an effective way to reduce pests.Store delicate leafy cocoons in nesting holes until harvest in the spring or early summer.Fall/Winter
 Fall/WinterStore harvested cocoons in fridge and check for humidity once a month.Harvest cocoons in early spring and begin incubation about 1 month before your summer garden blooms.
Early Spring
 October to JanuaryShare cocoons with your friends, family & neighbors, or exchange them with us via BeeBuyBack.Share cocoons with your local friends, family & neighbors.Late Spring

  1. You can use the same nesting houses for both mason bee and leafcutter seasons. When the mason bees are done in the spring simply replace with leafcutter's 6mm-sized nesting holes.
  2. Be careful to keep cocoons out of direct sunlight: full sun on cocoons can bake the eggs or developing bees inside.
  3. BeeGuardian bags are large and designed to store and protect nesting holes for both bees. Mark leafcutter nesting tubes or tie together with string as they will stay in the bag over winter.

Raising solitary bees helps you provide nesting habitat and take care of wild bees and beneficial solitary wasps (that eat garden pests) and you may notice them move in, this is okay! Our Pollination Pack with a variety of nesting hole sizes is perfect for encouraging wild bees to nest. Wild bee guests may have a different life cycle and produce more than one generation during the flowering season. After collecting nesting holes, check your BeeGuardian bag to see if wild adult bees or wasps are emerging throughout the year.

We recommend harvesting mason bee cocoons in the fall and leafcutter bee cocoons in late winter to early spring. Harvesting cocoons is the most effective way to protect next season’s bee health and it greatly reduces the spread of disease and pests.

Steps for Raising Mason & Leafcutter Bees

While the timing is different for spring mason bees and summer leafcutter bees, the process of raising them is very similar.

Install house

  • Select a location that receives early morning sun (generally south to southeast facing) and protects the nesting materials from wind and rain. If your area has extreme heat (over 100°F/38°C) during the day, ensure that the house is shaded during the highest temperatures of the day, while still exposed to morning sun.
  • Mount house at eye-level: 5-8 feet, 1.5-2.5 meters. These bees are fun to watch!
  • If you paint the bee house, allow plenty of time for the paint to cure. The smell of wet paint may deter the bees.
  • If birds become a problem, you can fashion a safe-zone with some wire mesh or chicken wire. Use a mesh size between ½” to ¾” and loosely create a 3" bubble around the front of the house. This gives the bees some space and keeps the birds from perching on the mesh.

Place Nesting Holes

  • Generally, you should have 1 nest hole available for each cocoon (male and female). Female bees often claim two or more nest holes in one season.
  • Put loose nesting holes in a random arrangement so the bees can find their nest hole easier.
  • Many native bee species nest in a variety of hole sizes. Try our Pollination Pack and see what comes to nest!
 Spring Mason BeesSummer Leafcutter Bees
 
  • Mason bees prefer nesting holes with an 8mm diameter opening.
  • The burnishing on the front of our reusable wood trays helps mason bees to identify their home.
  • Leafcutter bees prefer nesting holes with a 6mm diameter opening.
  • Reusable wood leafcutter trays are preseasoned with bee scent.

Release Cocoons

  • Pro Tip: Dandelions are blooming = time to release mason bee cocoons.
  • Fun idea: Let a few mason or leafcutter bees emerge from cocoons in your hand while standing outside in your garden. Geat fun for kids!
  • Please remember to keep cocoons out of direct sun.
  • Extend your bee season by releasing half your cocoons, then waiting a few weeks to release the second half. Remember to release a variety of cocoon sizes.
 Spring Mason BeesSummer Leafcutter Bees
 
  • Release cocoons when you have open blossoms and consistent daytime temps of 55°F/13°C or warmer.
  • Place cocoons behind or on top of your nesting holes.  A small paper cup can easily hold cocoons on windy days. 
  • Larger cocoons are female bees, smaller cocoons are male bees. You need a good mix of both for egg fertilization and the natural ratio for mason bees is 6 males: 4 females. Don’t worry if your numbers are not exact.
  • Make sure all your mason bee cocoons are released by the beginning of May.
  • Release cocoons when you have open blossoms and consistent daytime temps of 75°F/24°C or warmer.
  • Leafcutter bees require incubation, see incubation instructions.
  • Cocoons purchased from Crown Bees: we incubate them for you. 
  • If conditions are ideal leafcutter bees are capable of having multiple generations emerge in one season. Large holes in leaf-capped ends are a sign of a second generation emerging. 
  • Make sure all your leafcutter bee cocoons are released by the beginning of September.

Bee Ready Garden - Plants

  • Creating a bee garden helps other local, wild pollinators that simply aren’t able to fly long distances. Local food for local bees!
  • The best flowers for bees are those native to your area because they have evolved to provide pollen and nectar. Ask your local nursery or native plant society about native plants that are blooming in early spring for mason bees and summer blooming for leafcutter bees. While hybrid plants are beautiful, they typically have less pollen and nectar.
  • Consider turning a patch of your lawn into a pollinator buffet! Large clumps of flowers are more attractive to bees than individual plants. A mixture of flowers that bloom at different times will ensure that your bees have a constant food source. 
  • Mow your lawn less often or set your lawn mower to the highest blade setting to allow some dandelions and clover to bloom.
  • Reduce and avoid chemical use. Many chemical fertilizers and herbicides can be harmful or deter bees. Read more about chemicals and alternatives.
  • Fun tip: 70% of native bees are ground-nesting (and solitary). Provide a friendly place for them that is mulch-free, low on foot traffic, and sunny.

Bee Ready Garden - Nest Building Materials

 Spring Mason BeesSummer Leafcutter Bees
 
  • Mason bees use clay-like mud for their nesting chamber partitions. If they can’t find clay soil the bees will move on to a new location. If you find that your mason bees have low productivity, this may be the reason.
  • We have Mason Bee Mud for amendment if you don’t have clay-like soil.
  • If you know your yard has clay-like soil, dig a hole (one good shovelful) and keep it moist through the early spring to early summer.
  • Summer leafcutter bees use leaves and petals to build protective leafy cocoons. They cut small circles out of leaves of peas, roses, dahlias, and lilacs.
  • Fun tip: Watch your leafcutter bees fly home with small sections of leaves tucked underneath. Especially fun when they gather brightly colored flower petals.

Wait & Watch

  • As your bees emerge, you will see a beige substance that looks like splattered paint. The is meconium, the bee’s first elimination of waste (bee poop!).
  • The males emerge first and wait for the females to emerge later.
  • After mating, the female will claim a nesting hole and use it as a shelter at night and during poor weather.
  • Fun idea: Shine a flashlight in the nesting holes at night or early morning. You’ll see bee faces (or bottoms) peering back at you.
  • If you’re a morning person, watch the bees warm themselves at the front of their nesting hole in the morning sun.

Collect & Protect Nesting Holes

  • At the end of the season of bee activity, remove nesting holes from the bee house to protect the developing bees from parasitic wasps and other predators. Place nesting holes inside the BeeGuardian bag with the capped or open end facing up.
 Spring Mason BeesSummer Leafcutter Bees
 
  • Mason bee activity usually ends in late spring or early summer. 
  • Place the nesting material in an area that stays warm, but is not exposed to extreme heat and large predators. A garage or shed is a good location to store bees over the summer.
  • Please remember that mason bees need the summer warmth to develop from egg to adult. DO NOT put your nesting material in the refrigerator right now as this will halt development.
  • Leafcutter bee activity usually ends in late summer or early fall.
  • Place the nesting material in an area that stays cool, such as a garage or shed, to store bees over the winter.
  • Do not store leafcutter cocoons in the refrigerator because they are very susceptible to moisture damage.

Harvest Cocoons

  • Harvesting cocoons helps ensure bee health, prevents the spread of disease, and reduces pest populations.
  • For full instructions go to Harvest Cocoons | Step by Step.
 Spring Mason BeesSummer Leafcutter Bees
 
  • Fall is time to harvest cocoons. The larvae have spun cocoons and are fully mature waiting for winter hibernation.
  • To extend the life of your bee house and nesting materials store them in your shed or garage. Give the house and wood trays a good cleaning with a stiff brush, and store unused tubes and reeds in a dry place. 
  • Early spring, or during release of spring mason bees, is time to harvest cocoons.
  • Do not wash leafy cocoons as they are not waterproof.
  • After harvest in the spring, begin the incubation process to encourage the eggs to develop for summer pollination.  

Store Cocoons

 Spring Mason BeesSummer Leafcutter Bees
 
  • Store your harvested mason bee cocoons in the fridge in a HumidiBee (or another container) to maintain cocoon moisture over winter.
  • Be sure to check and add water, if needed, once a month.
  • Sign up for BeeMail to receive timely reminders.
  • Beginning in late summer or early fall, unharvested bee nesting materials should be stored in a BeeGuardian bag in an unheated shed or garage.
  • Store harvested cocoons in a BeeGuardian bag in a warm area to begin the incubation process. Plan ahead for when you want bees pollinating because It may take 4-5 weeks for incubation.

Share Cocoons

Consider sharing the benefit of your excess native, solitary bee cocoons with your local friends, family, and other community members. Alternatively, exchange your excess mason bee cocoons with us for nesting materials, Crown Bees gift certificate, or check, with our BeeBuyBack program. We rehome your extra cocoons to other local gardeners or in nearby orchards and farms. Please note that leafcutter cocoons are not eligible for the BeeBuyBack program at this time.

Repeat

Continue on this yearly cycle and watch your bee population grow! If, like all of us, you're hooked on bees try adding another bee house, experiment with another nesting material, or expand your pollinating season with either spring mason bees or summer leafcutter bees.

Leafcutter Bee Cocoon Incubation

  • Harvest leafcutter cocoons and place them into a protective fine mesh bag like the BeeGuardian.
  • It takes 28 days for adults to begin to emerge after incubation at a consistent temperature of 86°F (30°C).
  • Development is dependent on time spent in warmer temperatures and cooler temperatures result in development taking longer. 
  • Try this: store the cocoons near your hot water heater where it is dark and warm.
  • After about 7-12 days begin checking for Pteromalus and kill these parasitic wasps.
  • Some leafcutter bees have a shorter development cycle and may begin emerging after 18-20 days of warmth.
  • We placed a bag of leafcutter cocoons in our office and it took 6 weeks for our leafcutter bees to emerge at 70°F.