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Field shelters

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 roof.design.  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.
Here are another couple of stacked large box-like structures to protect mason bee houses during the pollination season,



Stacked box Sysem for pollinating field crops



The small boxes with holes at the front are ’emergence boxes” for releasing bees  (contain 100-200 mason bee cocoons).  In this setup, there are 8 on the left hand side of the upper shelf and 3 on the upper shelf on the right hand side. I ran out of emergence boxes, and had to use an old bird nest (upper LHS).   

One problem with this structure is that it catches the wind and it makes it more difficult for bees to fly in and out of the nest. The wind also makes it colder around the nests.

These stacked boxes were set on top of  blue bins since we ran out of wooden pallets.
Note the electric fence used to prevent bear damage.  For increased stability, 3 posts were hammered into the ground and nailed to the boxes.  
Looking back to these structures, the yurt is a dream to use.  In the next few blogs, I will be writing about our yurt designed by Charley Ford.  The uprights are no problem , but the roof design is  a bit tricky.
Our very first yurt was made out of wood lath, 6 sided and covered in tarp.   The tarp was stapled to the wooden frame.  The yurt was set onto a wooden pallet to get it above the wet ground. We checked the inside temperatures by setting up thermometers and recording temperatures over several weeks.  Temperatures were higher than outside temperatures and bees did not get caught in the tarp.  We used it for a season, and it worked well.  But of course lathe is not strong enough for long time use.  We also needed a sturdier structure to hold all the nests.  We also needed a simpler roof design. 

Yurts of all colours in the distance.

 These prairie yurts make pollination feasible since leafcutter bee nests are protected from the wind and rain.  Temperatures inside the yurt are warm under windy conditions and on very hot days, excess heat escapes through the roof.  It seemed that this structure moderated both cool and hot temperatures.

We saw two designs  that consisted of a metal framework and surrounds of tarp.

The metal framework consisted of  one inch square tubing, welded together into a Octagon.



In this yurt, the roof consisted of 8 metal bars, bent to make a sloping roof.  Note that the tubes leave an 8″ diameter hole in the roof.


I found out later, that these very heavy structures were left in the field all year round.  Of course the tarp was removed when nests were removed.  Sometimes fields of alfalfa are burned with the metal part of the yurt still in the field.  Because of their weight, you would need a good size truck and some kind of a lift to haul them onto the truck.

I thought this would be a good system for farmers who have heavy duty equipment, welding capabilities and large acreages to pollinate.

But a structure is needed so that small operators with a few thousand mason bees or more can be more successful in gardens and small orchards.


The tarp was held onto the frame with plastic ties threaded through tarp grommets.


Most of the leafcutter bees flew through the door opening, but a few, perhaps the disoriented bees, exited through the roof.

Even with a stiff breeze, it was nice and warm inside the yurt.  Not too hot, like the plastic molded yurt.

Since that time, we have tried quite a few different designs using different materials.  We do know that we are sticking to tarp material.  Tarps work and are readily available.  More on some of our designs in the next blog.



The framework of this yurt consists of 8 pieces of metal.  These are welded together using a center ring.  There are 3 alfalfa leaf cutter bees visible flying through the roof -vent hole.

 



A plastic tie used to hold tarp to metal framework of the yurt adjacent to door.

 



This is a view through the front opening of the yurt showing styrofoam nests hung from the framework, and against the walls of the yurt.  The wooden box just visible below the doorway horizontal bar, contained leafcutter bee cocoons.  Most had emerged when we looked.

 

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