There are generally two ways in which you can raise mason bees. You can go at it with a hands-off approach and let nature take its course or you can take some quick and easy additional steps to ensure a healthier mason bee population. Any help really that you’re willing to provide will be appreciated by the mason bee community.
If you decide not to maintain your mason bee house it will unfortunately only be productive for 1-2 years. The tubes will eventually fill up with debris (old mud sections, cocoon debris etc.) and be useless to future generations.
Luckily, mason bee maintenance is a simple process that only take about a half hour each year. Mason bees over winter as pupae. It is at this stage in the bee’s life where you can help the most. Follow these eight simple steps to give your mason bees the best chance at a thriving population.
Step 1: Remove the tubes
When the bee tunnels are sealed up with mud at the ends of the tubes, the bee season is over. At this point, you can remove the tubes, place them in a breathable bag, and store them in a warm place.
You can also just leave them in the bee house to finish out the summer. However by leaving them, you risk nature invading your bees. Things like parasitic infestation, fungal infections, and disease can be reduced by removing and protecting the tubes.
Step 2: Remove the cocoons
In the fall, after the temperatures have dropped below 50 degrees, it’s time to open the tubes and remove the cocoons. If you have paper tubes, pull out the paper inserts and expose the cocoons.
It’s important to work in a cool area so the bees do not warm up and wake early.
Step 3: Sorting
Sort the cocoons from the mud and other debris.
Step 4: Bath
Give your cocoons a bath in one gallon cool water with ¼ cup bleach added. This will kill any fungal spores. Stir the cocoons in the water for about two minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or mesh sieve and allow to dry.
Step 5: Selecting
Select the best cocoons. To ensure a healthy bee population you want to separate the best cocoons from those who might not be as healthy.
Indications of unhealthy cocoons are:
— Cocoons that sink in the cool water bath
— C Shaped Cocoons. This can be a sign of fungal infection called Chalkbrood.
— Holes in the cocoon, as this may be a sign of a parasitic wasp infestation.
These cocoons should be discarded.
Step 6: Refrigerate your cocoons
You will want to store your bees at around 30-40 degrees F and at 60-70% humidity. You can achieve this by placing the cocoons in a sealed container like a plastic food storage container, poke a few holes for ventilation, and place a small dampened sponge, wrung out in the container next to the cocoons. Check periodically to make sure the sponge is still moist.
Step 7: Wait
Store your cocoons throughout the winter until the temperature is consistently over 50 degrees F.
Step 8: Release your bees
Place the cocoons near the provided mason bee house. Setting them on top of the tubes inside the bee house is a good way to offer protection until the bees emerge.