Mason Bees are solitary bees. They don’t live in a hive, sting or produce honey and pollinate more than honey bees.
They have a yearly life-cycle. The male bee’s emerge from their cocoon’s first in the spring and wait around the “bee house” for the females to emerge. Once they do, they mate. The males die and the females prepare their “nest” which is a tubular structure natural or man-made. The eggs are left with pollen for food and the eggs are separated with a wall of mud in the tube. The eggs hatch to larva which then spin a cocoon and enter the pupal stage. They stay in the stage during the fall and winter and hatch in the spring.
To have mason bees you need a house for them to live and lay their eggs in, a natural food supply, mud and some cocoons to get started. You can get bee houses with “fixed” tubes like bamboo or tubes that you can clean out and re-use like plastic or wooden blocks. There are benefits to both types. In New Westminster I have a house with plastic blocks/tubes that come apart allowing me to clean out the tubes, take the cocoons out, clean them, then store them in the fridge until the spring. The plus to this is you get rid of potential mites and bacteria that could kill the larva. The downside is that it’s pretty gross to clean out and the house is more expensive. I clean the tubes out in the late fall. Other types you can clean out include paper tubes and wooden blocks which are split like the plastic tubes.
Costco now has tubes you can clean yourself.
This year I will be using the plastic tubes as I prefer to clean them out in the fall and then store the cocoons in the fridge vs guessing when to bring the house in and store it. This style can be found in many garden centres.
The house should face the morning sun, it brings warmth to the bees in the morning and makes them get up and going.
The time to leave the cocoons out in the spring is when flowers start to bloom. At Lac Le Jeune the dandelions start first and that was when I left the cocoons out. A few to start and then the rest a week later.
Some bee houses have a small cavity to leave the cocoons in, or you can use a small box with a small opening in it. If you put the cocoons out too early and the bees hatch without a food supply they will die before laying eggs. I also leave a small container of clay mud out – though this isn’t necessary, the bees will find a source of mud/clay to build their nests. You will know if your bee house is going to be successful as you will see bees entering and exiting the tubes as they lay eggs. When a tube is full (usually 5 eggs) they will seal the end of the tube with mud and go onto the next tube.
At Lac Le Jeune last year I put out 10 or 12 cocoons in the spring. Over the next few weeks I saw 10 tubes filled in the bee house. I wasn’t sure when to bring the house in (I was going to leave it in either the basement or shed) – but the week we were up there in the fall I noticed all the tubes were open. I don’t know if it was the weather being suddenly cold then suddenly warm again caused the bees to hatch, or if it was flicker birds getting an easy meal. Some people recommend placing a mesh over/around the tubes that will enable the bees to enter the tubes but will keep birds from eating the cocoons.
You'll find lots of information on YouTube. This channel that has information on harvesting and cleaning the cocoons.
I do have extra cocoons, enough for 2 people to get a start, so contact me if interested. It’s also possible to buy cocoons off craigslist, etc. 10 of them cost around $10.
Any questions, just email me: (laclejeune at laclejeune dot ca)
~ by Steve Roy ~