Field shelters

The farmer asked us if we could place additional mason bees into his orchard besides the ones going into  Charlie’s yurt located at the front of the orchard.  We chose a spot in the middle of his orchard, away from Charlie’s yurt.  The orchard is located in the Fraser valley, BC.

  • Our very first job in the orchard was to dig a hole for a post.  Here is Tim digging a hole with a post-hole digger.  The yurt will be tied to this post, so it does not topple over in a strong wind.

  •  All parts of the yurt were hauled to the site in a wheelbarrow.  The wheelbarrow contains uprights and tarp that goes around the yurt.  On the ground you can see the roof hexagon and the ground hexagon.  The white roof tarp is on top of both hexagons.

We assembled the roof by inserting 6 metal rods into the hexagon and the roof center piece. The six metal rods keep the roof tarp at a nice slope to keep the rain from pooling on the tarp.  The roof-tarp is then stapled onto the center piece, and then onto the roof-hexagon.

  • The ground-hexagon was set down in place adjacent to the post.

  •  Using screws and a drill, 3 uprights were attached to the ground-hexagon.  A drill and a bag of screws are in the foreground.

  • The fully assembled roof was screwed into position at the top of the three uprights.

  • The yurt was completed by attaching remaining uprights and stapling the tarp surrounds under the roof tarp.  Finally a rope was used to tie down yurt to the post.
Now that this yurt is in place, the next thing is to hang Highrises in place, and set out mason bee cocoons.

This week I have been busy setting up yurts to house my mason bee cocoons. This is critical in areas where spring weather may be cool and wet. The inside of a yurt environment provides mason bees with warmer temperatures than outside temperatures. These warmer temperatures are more suitable for developing bees and growing bees successfully. For this reason, yurts or similar type structures are the way of the future for mason bees.

Our newest yurt, model D27 or D27Yurt is compact (3ft in diameter) sturdy, can hold 27 highrises and is easy to assemble. Each yurt can be put together in 2-3 hours with a screwdriver, drill and a pair of pliers. Three D27Yurts will be set out in different locations to test their effectiveness.

I am excited to have all cocoons set into yurts this year. I will be setting up a total of 5 yurts. Each yurt has the capacity of holding 648 nesting tunnels at each of 3 levels. a capacity of 1944 nesting holes.  At each of 3 levels, there is space for 9 Highrises (72 nesting tunnels per Highrise). Of course temperatures will be higher at the top levels compared to the lower levels, but more about differing temperatures inside the yurt in later blogs. Two yurts in use were designed and made by Charlie F. The remaining yurts will be the new D27Yurt.

This is Charlie’s yurt.  The tarp is 3 years old and is still in good shape.  We checked for holes in the tarp and found a few where the wood rubs the tarp.  We taped some duct tape over the few holes we found.  It is ready for hanging Highrises and setting out cocoons.

I have even set up a D27Yurt on the deck of my home. Previously I had 3 boxes (2 x 2 x1.5ft) attached onto the wall of my home. In each box I used to set out an assortment of nesting trays and houses. This site is less attractive now because my peach tree shades that part of the house. The deck receives more direct sun than any other part of my garden- so it should be a good site for my bees. Yesterday, the Highrises were hung into a D27Yurt at the home site. The sun came out for a brief period and temperatures rose to 80F inside the yurt! It is nearly time to set out the cocoons. The Peach tree is beginning to fill out their buds.

Tim and a re-bar yurt

You may wonder about my fascination with yurts.  This fascination with yurts has been with me since I saw the yurts in Saskatchewan and at the same time the realization that yurts of this type would be a good structure for mason bee housing.  A yurt might just be the answer for creating a warm environment at a time of year when temperatures are often cool.  I think cool spring weather is our biggest problem in being able to produce lots of mason bees.  Even under cloudy and windy conditions temperatures are quite a bit warmer inside the yurt then outside.

The re-bar yurt was constructed by J.Gaskin.  Re-bar makes it as strong as the yurts of Saskatchewan (these were  made from iron pipe) and because of this strength, nests could be hung from the yurt itself.  Also, it could hold a significant number of nests, like in the alfalfa fields for alfalfa leaf cutter bee pollination.  The re-bar at the base of the yurt could be pushed into the dirt for added stability.

Hole in roof. Re-bar is welded to metal
ring.  Note white tarp was used for the roof.
Skirt buried under soil to prevent air
 movement  into yurt from base of the

This yurt consisted of 3 rings of re-bar and 8 verticals.  When I draped the material around the framework, I found that another ring of re-bar would have been useful at the height where the re-bar was bent to form the roof. Also, when hanging up the Highrises inside the yurt, I found that the Highrises were not easy to attach to the re-bar.  A special hook of some sort would make it easier to hang Highrises on the wall and would make it easy for removing Highrises for harvesting and cleaning.

Cocoon Release houses.
Each holding about 200 cocoons.
Highrises filled with a variety of interlocking Quicklock
 nesting  trays.  Note painted letters on front of nests to
help bees orient to their nesting tunnel.
This yurt worked well for the bees. The size definitely makes it more suitable for commercial use rather than for use in the home garden. It was too big for a 4×4 and had to be hauled to the site by a farm vehicle.
Now all we have to do is design one that is suitable for the home gardens, one that can be used for small orchards and work for the larger commercial acreages. 

Steve E from California, contacted me about setting out mason bees in an almond orchard.  He asked me for feedback on his idea of constructing a housing unit for mason bees out of a plastic barrel.

” I brought the two plastic tubs into my garage and took this photo of the 2 containers side by side.  You can see that the all-blue barrel is uncut, while the white one has a cut-out door of about 12″ x 16″ bordered by black tape.  Within the barrel are stacked cinder blocks.  You can make out a roll of cardboard tubes within one cinder block.  On top of the cinder blocks is a wood bee block.

So, if these barrels are only 33 inches tall (a bit less than one meter), are they too short to be effective ?  The diameters are 23″.  I could put a stack of cinder blocks out with a wood pallet on top, and elevate the barrel on the pallet to gain some height.  But that would make it more vulnerable to the wind, as well as more work and materials for multiple sites.
I can obtain these barrels quite easily, and they are simple to cut out.  The temperature within vs. without is at least 5 degrees warmer on a sunny day.  On an overcast day, at least the blocks are protected from the wind.
I can put vent holes in the top or upper edges.  But these are targeting February and March activity in an almond orchard and plum orchard, and it is generally lower to mid 50′s F in those months.
Please comment on the potential efficacy of this simple housing unit.”
COMMENTS:  The bees may behave/forage/fly differently in the blue and white unit.  Setting them side by side would make for an interesting test.  Cut a hole in the center of the top (4-6″ diam) so excessive heat can escape.  Also disoriented bees can fly out through the top and re-orient to their nesting tunnel after flying through the door.  Set cinder block against the sides, so to avoid any rain coming through the skylight hole and falling onto the nesting tubes.  Secure  from wind.  Set out in an open and sunny location.   Set up 3 thermometers: 2 inside at different heights and one on the outside north wall for comparison.  I look forward to hearing more about this housing unit.
Charley, an old friend of mine started with mason bees a few years back.  He loves the challenge of wood and design.  We often talked about the yurt.  At one point he asked me “What do you need,  how long  and high must this be..?”.  He said  ”Ï’ll have a go”.  Some time later he came back with his yurt in the back of his red pickup truck.  He said, “I do wood work, but I don’t know anything about sewing”.
The structure was complete, but it needed a tarp.  So, I bought some tarp material and set to work.  Draping the tarp around the uprights was easy.  A few staples held it in place.  It took me a bit more work to do the  The tricky part with the roof is that you cannot have any folds, because the bees might get caught in amongst the material.  I ended up stapling the material to the roof after sewing the pieces together.
Charley’s yurt design.  We painted a black bee design on it – just for the fun of it.

Inside of Charley’s designed yurt.   A piece of plywood over the uprights held the base of the roof pieces.  The upper parts of the roof pieces were attached to the roof hexagon.

The corner uprights were made from 1.5 x 1.5 inches.  Two pieces of thin lath was used to hold one Highrise with nesting trays.  Each Highrise was hung onto the lath with two hooks.

Every piece of thin lath was nailed to the main structure that consisted of 2 hexagons (upper and lower -made from 1X2′s).  A piece of welded re-bar was attached to each upright, at the base, so that the re bar could be pressed into the ground for added stability.

Tim standing next to Charley’s finished yurt.

Three rows of Highrises fit into this size yurt.  Each Highrise is filled with our Quicklock Eco-Corn trays

Soil is added to the extra length of tarp to prevent wind from going underneath the tarp.

This yurt worked great:  Mason bees did not get caught in any part of the structure, during the day the temperature was always warmer inside ( but never over 30 Celsius).  It is definitely sturdy.  I did try it out in Cawston BC, and I was told that it may get very windy on some days.  To make sure the yurt did not topple , I tied 3 guy ropes to eye hooks and to a fence.  More recently I have simplified this by setting the yurt adjacent to a sturdy post and tying a rope around the yurt and fastening the rope to the post.  This works well.
However, this design is a little complex- we are mainly speaking about the complexity of the roof design.  Also, not everyone has a  welder so that pieces of re bar can be fastened to each of the six ’feet’ of the yurt.
We need a design that is simple to assemble and set out in a garden.
Over the next week or I want to tell you about our other yurts, their advantages and disadvantages.  I want to show you our yurts made of re-bar and made of irrigation pipe.
I also have a collection of photos of what people have found in  their mason bee nests.  Fascinating!…More next time.
Every year more cocoons were produced and so we build more nests.  
In this particular year stacked boxes are sitting on top of large fruit totes.  I did this so bees could freely fly in and out of their nest.  The problem was that the wind also caught the nests.  It was not surprising to see that the lower nests shielded from the wind by the blueberry bushes were filled first.