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Monthly Archives: December 2010

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.

Before we used corn nesting trays inside yurts, we used wooden nesting trays in wooden structures (picture below).  Here, we are dealing with thousands of cocoons.  How to release them is a good question.

With alfalfa leaf cutter bees, cocoons are set out in open trays (see previous blog), bees emerge and then fly to nearby nests.  I have tried this method, but gusts of winds or something upsets the trays and all cocoons end up on the ground.

The system I normally use for setting out cocoons is to place them into small wooden shelters as seen in this photograph.  On the upper shelf in this picture there are 3 shelters on the left hand side and 3 shelters on the right hand side.  Each shelter contains between 100- 250 cocoons.  The little door on the front of each shelter has a hole from which mason bees emerge.  I find this shelter system the most secure way of releasing cocoons, no matter how many cocoons I have.



Open structure for mason bee houses.

Nesting trays are usually set up in Highrises (see www.beediverse.com).  Highrises hold about 10-12 nesting trays.  We do not normally use the cedar roof on the Highrise in this system.  I find the Highrise the best system for setting out trays.  It easily fits a variety of trays and protects the nesting trays from the weather.



This old cedar shake cottage, which was probably a livable house at one time, is the perfect place to hang a few nests for mason bees. There are lots of reasons why this might be a great place to produce mason bees.  The house itself, provides a place out of the rain with its overhanging roof, the cedar shakes on the sides of the building probably have mason bees amongst the shakes already, it is a warm location, protected from winds by some huge trees, and it is in the sun.  



Cedar shake cottage – and ideal location for mason bees




Not only is it a warm location in direct sunlight, but the warmth of the shed wall would stay warm long after the sun had gone down.  This is important in keeping bee larvae active and feeding.
In addition,the owner, has lots of fruit trees and blueberry bushes adjacent to the house providing abundant food sources for the bees.  And, most importantly, no pesticides are used on the property.
 
You can imagine my surprise when I produced fewer cocoons in the first season than the number of cocoons I set out.  The 3rd and 4th years were no different.  The fifth year the bee population exploded.
A collection of mason bee nests on the south facing side of
a cedar shake cottage.  Odd shapes, colours and layout of nests
helps the bee in finding its own nesting tunnel.

I initially thought some freaky weather pattern made the area cooler and not very attractive to bees.  But the 5th year’s explosive growth  countered that argument.  If production continues to be good, than food and other weather related conditions must be ok for mason bees. 

My theory now is that during the first few years, there were so many available nesting holes in amongst the cedar shakes and the density of bees so low, only a few nested in the mason bee houses that I had set out.  As the years passed, the cedar shake nesting holes filled up and mason bees began to use the mason bee houses in earnest.

If this is true, then natural nesting holes will be used first since these are more attractive then most man-made nests.  After a few years mason bees will start using mason bee houses. 

Note:  All man-made nests and cocoons were cleaned every fall.  Wooden structures were cleaned and scrubbed.  Cocoons were washed free of mites, and later candled to identify and destroy any parasitized  cocoons.

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. 


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