The Day The Mason Bees Emerged

Mason bees emerging in spring

As interesting as it is to see mason bees surface after a winter dormant, I was hoping they would wait another week or two as there are virtually no flowers on our roof. Crocus have left us, currants, blueberries and gooseberries all look to be about a week or two away… in fact the only flowing plant on the roof is our massive rosemary. Oh well.

It was purely by chance that I checked the bees this afternoon and noticed a few plugs opened and bees at the entrance. As I’ve mentioned previously, last year we used store-bought bee houses along with bamboo tubes. Since the tubes were nearly impossible to open, I left them in the houses and just moved them to a safe, sheltered place on a north-facing balcony. As a result, the cocoons weren’t cleaned and the temperature control was left largely to nature.

What happened? Well, I was expecting that a lot of the tubes would not emerge at all. As I said, I hadn’t cleaned them, I hadn’t controlled the temperature, they weren’t perfectly shielded from rain through the summer… but I was pleasantly surprised. Emergence happened all at once with mason bee after mason bee peeking out of their tubes and taking short hops before settling on a south-facing surface presumably to warm up.

The major issue was something I predicted in an earlier post. While all of the bees looked fat and well-fed, there were some that were absolutely plagued with mites (see the photos in this post). Others, fortunately, seemed to be completely unaffected by mites, but those that were were covered by them.

Mason bee covered in mites
Mite-infested mason bee minutes after emerging from bamboo tubes. March 2020

 

Takeaway? This year’s cardboard and paper tube test is probably warranted given the situation with mites on my mason bees. Toward summer’s end I need to remove and open the mason bee tubes, remove the cocoons and clean them before storing them in the fridge (or other suitable location) until next spring. Hopefully, IF the bees choose to use the paper tubes, and IF the babies survive to form cocoons, and IF I remove and clean them properly we should have a healthy population come next spring.

Healthy mason bee
Healthy mason bee minutes after emerging. March 2020

 

Mason bee minutes after emerging
Mason bee minutes after emerging. March 2020

DIY Mason Bee(r) Hive – Howe Sound Installation

Mason Bees Mating on the Road

A number of the DIY beer can-based mason bee hives were “installed” this week at various locations on an island in Howe Sound. During a visit last summer, I noticed mason bees coming and going behind cedar shingles on a cabin, and saw them in abundance in a friend’s fruit orchard, so I figured it would be interesting to see if they would take advantage of my low budget mason bee houses.

While this past week has been quite warm between 11am and 2pm, outside those windows it remains uncomfortably cold. As such I saw VERY little bee activity. This may be due in part to the only flowers observed being  daffodils, rosemary (introduced) and skunk cabbage (do bees even like skunk cabbage?).

In terms of pollinators, we observed various types of bee flies, bumblebees, honeybees, a single wasp and a pair of mason bees mating in the middle of the road. That single pair suggests the masses are just around the corner, so hopefully the needed flowers hurry up and bloom. Presently there are barely buds on many of the needed trees.

The mason bee(r) houses were placed in several locations across 2 properties on the island. One on the water, and one inland. In both cases the bee houses face south / east and are angled slightly downward to reduce the likelihood of water ingress and pooling. Hopefully our next visit will find hundreds of tubes capped with mud and ready for eventual cleaning.

If these homebrew mason bee houses aren’t your thing, you can of course purchase ready-made mason bee houses on Amazon and elsewhere. For those of you in the US, you can find many mason bee house models here, and if you’re in Canada, then these are the bee houses you’re looking for.

Beer can mason bee house in a wood pile.
Beer can mason bee house placed in a wood pile.

 

DIY mason bee house in a woodshed
Pringles can mason bee house mounted on a woodshed.

Do It Yourself Mason and Leafcutter Bee Houses. DIY Bee Houses!

Do it yourself mason bee homes

The following outlines my attempts to create a few low budget mason and leafcutter bee houses to spread around the property. Houses I won’t be overly concerned about should weather or other factors damage them during the hear. They are NOT pretty, so if you’re looking for mason bee houses to improve the appearance of your garden consider one of the following (but remember to take them in over winter else you’ll be buying again next year.

Mason bee houses shipped from Canada

Mason bee houses shipped from the US

My mason bee houses are in bad shape. Really bad shape. Being the fool that I am I forgot to bring them in and left them to the elements on the roof through a very wet, very cold winter. Rather than spend for new, nicely designed houses I’ve decided to get scrappy and go the DIY route. 

What do I have so far? A whole lot of ugly, but ugly that just might work if placed in the right locations. I wanted something light, that wouldn’t break if dropped, and that required as little work as possible. I used cardboard from the recycle bin (toilet paper rolls, cereal and cracker boxes etc) to make the mason bee tubes, rolling the cardboard around a pencil and taping them once rolled using masking tape. Pay attention to which direction the cardboard ‘wants’ to roll and it will make your life much easier. Last year I used dollar store bamboo and did a pass with a cordless drill to open up any tubes that weren’t fully accessible. These worked, but opening the bamboo was a real challenge. I’m hoping the cardboard will be much easier to open in the fall in order to recover and clean the cocoons.

Also, I’m considering placing some kind of mesh at the entrance to prevent larger animals (birds, squirrels etc) from ruining things, and giving the bees some measure of protection while they work. 

The three ‘designs’ I’ve tried so far start with the milk carton mason bee house:

  • Milk carton. 1L size, to cut off.
  • Duct tape
  • Cardboard for rolling (toilet paper tubes, cereal boxes, etc)
  • Paper straws
  • Masking tape

I used the duct tape to ‘waterproof’ the paper milk carton, including about 2 inches inside the lip of the carton to both protect the exposed cardboard from the initial cut, and to provide some texture for the tubes to catch against. I used a blend of tubes (different cardboard sources and slightly different lengths) an also included a few smaller, paper straw tubes in case other bee types show up. All tubes were pushed against the back of the carton, and I kept adding until I could add no more.

Milk carton mason bee house
Milk carton mason bee house version 1

 

Next up is the beer can mason bee house.

  • Beer cans (473mL tall style)
  • Duct tape
  • Cardboard for rolling
  • Paper straws
  • Masking tape

Basically the same as the milk carton, expect I had to cut the tops off the beer cans. I just used a serrated knife, but use whatever you like, and be careful. Once off, cleaned and dried I used duct tape around the cut edge to smooth them. From there it was the same as with the cartons.

Beer can mason bee house
Beer can mason bee house

 

Finally, Pringles can mason bee house.

  • Tall Pringles can
  • Duct tape
  • Cardboard for rolling OR longer cardboard pre-fab tubes
  • Paper straws
  • Masking tape

Pringles can was similar to the milk carton, but is my least favorite as despite washing the inside, the sides remained slippery. The tape isn’t sticking as well as the others, so we’ll see how these ones perform.

Pringles can mason bee house
Pringles can mason bee house

 

Over the next several days I’ll be placing these mason bee houses around the property here, as well as a few other locations I saw frequented by mason bees last year. As always, I’ll be positioning the bee houses facing southeast, and to the extent possible under cover to limit the risk of water ingress.

Thoughts?