This year we had our first batch of Mason Bees and they did a wonderful job pollinating our spring and early summer flowers, fruit and vegetables! We started with 10 cocoons, 8 of them hatched (4 females and 4 males) and the kids and I watched for months while our tubes were filled and sealed with new baby cocoons! Mason bees are gentle (don't sting!), low cost and require very little time to maintain. A perfect entry-level to beekeeping! I set up our mason bee home at my kids eye level so we could all enjoy watching them work. Here are the first few tubes that filled this spring... At the end of June we put the tubes that were filled with anything into a paper sack and stuck it in the garage where it stayed cool all summer. Now that it's fall, it's time to clean and prepare the cocoons for winter hibernation, when the baby bees grow until they are fully mature and ready to emerge next spring!
We followed the instructions below and cleaned out all of our paper tubes and ended up with 8 male and 11 female cocoons that are now hanging out in our refrigerator waiting for spring. We lost a lot to wasps and other unknown pests, probably as many as we ended up keeping.
Crown Bees in Woodinville is a fantastic resource for products, bees, information and tutorial videos. Spend time on their website and help your baby mason bees grow safely this winter!
For harvest specific info - go here.
The rest of this post has information that is taken directly from the Crown Bees website - this is our first time cleaning and prepping cocoons so we are following it closely!
Harvest time! This is where you will open up your tubes, reeds, or wood trays to separate your cocoons from pests. If you don't do this, you will more than likely begin losing your mason bees to pests.
First, we hope you understand harvesting should be done with friends, kids or grandchildren if possible. What better way to experience a bit of nature in the kitchen?
Separate cocoons from debris by hand. No need to wash cocoons or clean with sand. Although, if you find chalkbrood or a ton of pollen mites, you may want to wash the cocoons vigorously in cold water and rinse.
Remove pests, if present. All you need to keep are the cocoons. In the close-up picture below, these are natural... the left smaller male and right female have black larva "poop" on the outside. It's natural and are not pollen mites. Store in a cool environment (35-37°F, 4°C) for winter. Your refrigerator is the best source.
Now that you've finished harvesting your cocoons, you will want to keep them in outside ambient temperatures for about 3 weeks. Keep them protected! Your bees will transition from absorbing carbohydrates for nutrition to absorbing stored fats. If the bees are placed too quickly into your refrigerator, they may emerge slower than you'd like in the spring.
Do not use a wine cooler as it is too warm.
If you have enough mason bee cocoons and want to be sure that you don't place "almost done" bees in your refrigerator, you will want to open up a small cocoon or two. This video shows how to do this. In the first video, Dave opened the cocoon up with a razor blade (old fashioned way). Skip over the first 2:40 minutes. The last part is the key part. Then watch the next video.
Checking for "completeness" of mason bees
Beware of storing cocoons in a garage refrigerator with fruits that ripen (such as apples, melons, bananas). Ripening fruits create ethylene gas, and can kill mason bees. No need to worry, simply open the refrigerator the door occasionally.
Modern frost-free refrigerators are too dry at about 20-30% humidity. Crown Bees has developed the HumidiBee™, a cocoon humidifier, that keeps your cocoons between a 50-70% humidity level.
Download our BeeFile on Harvesting. It has far more information for your success! We strongly believe in harvesting with friends and family. Look at our thoughts in a Harvesting Party!
What should be happening:
The fully mature mason bees are ready to hibernate.
Hibernation slows the metabolism of the mason bee, which will allow them to emerge with most of their stored fats available… healthy and ready for spring!
Many customers ask "why not let the bees live outside? It's more natural!" We agree, that "survival of the fittest" is normally a good approach. However, our food supply needs more bees, and you can help increase the mason bee population with just a few hours of care each year. Humans are creating a mess for our bees with lack of habitat, lack of flowers, too many toxic chemicals, etc. We need every bee to survive and be healthy pollinators.
*** Thank you Crown Bees for such great information and support!!***
Featured photo of mason bee source.