• Yum! Blueberries. A waiting game…

    Pollen grains on a female stigma of a blueberry flower.

    Flower anthers that produce pollen grains.

    Hig-bush blueberry

    Pollen grains

     

    A blueberry flower cleared to show the whole flower.

    Blue berries, small and large are produced after bees deliver pollen from one flower and leave it at another.    The occasional grain may be transferred by a fly or by brushing against a plant, but he most effective pollination is done by bees.

    It is a waiting game for the each blueberry flower.  Each flower is attractive in its own right to a bee. since each flower produces nectar.  The bee needs nectar as an energy source and at the same time the bee collects and delivers pollen.

    Pollination is the transfer of pollen from one flower to another.  The bee does this very effectively.

    Bees have branched hairs that carry pollen grains.  Pollen is collected from the  male part of the flower called the anther.  When the pollen laden bee arrives at a blueberry flower and the bee scrabbles around for pollen and or nectar, some of the pollen on the bees body lands on the sticky stigma or female part of the flower.

    After pollen grains land on the sticky surface of the stigma, each pollen grain will produce a pollen tube down the stem

    Blueberry pollen grains.

    of the stigma (style) into the ovule.  Fertilization of the ovule soon follows and this ovule develops into a seed.  Growth and enlargement of the fruit is a response to seed development.

    Pollen grains on a bees’ branched hair

    The more pollen on a stigma, the more seeds are produced and the larger is the fruit.

  • Winter Questions, Answers and Observations

    When do mason bees stop flying in the summer?

    Question:

    I picked up some mason bees from you in March. I am worried that they have all died or something. We put the box up on the back fence, shortly after we received it from you. It took a few weeks, but we eventually saw some bees flying about, and returning to their nesting box. This continued for a few weeks, and 22 of the holes have been plugged with mud.

    Unfortunately, there has been no activity for the past six weeks or so. There are no bees to be seen flying around, nor going in and out of the nest box. The 22 plugged holes are still plugged, and again, there is no apparent activity. I did find one dead bee sitting at the edge of the bee house, in which I placed my nest box. I also found a hornet(?) building a nest inside the house, above the nest box. I killed the single hornet and removed the nest, which had only just begun. I have no idea if the hornet killed the mason bees or not.

    My father-in-law also took home a nest box, and he has had even less activity than me, as he has only 10 plugged holes, and he rarely saw any activity at all, and none in the last several weeks.

    Are there eggs inside the plugged tubes? Which will hatch next year? Or have we failed in our attempt?

    Reply:

    I’m happy to report, that everything that you have described was supposed to happen. Bees emerge and forage between 4 to 8 weeks and then die. Inside the tubes are the eggs that are busily developing into new adults for next year. Your tube holds an average five bees. If you multiply that by the tubes you have filled…that equals quite a few bees for next year. Congratulations!

    Bee and nest requirements

    Question:

    We received a mason bee kit last year and they were busy bees. Approximately 75 percent of the nests were occupied. What happens next year? We are interested in purchasing mason bees; how many do we require, what sex and quantities?

    Reply:

    Sounds like you had a successful year last year. You can calculate the number of bees by multiplying the number of nests filled by 5. I would suggest not getting any more bees, unless you have a large orchard that you need to pollinate.

    Cleaning the nest and bees

    Question:

    We love those little bees. Started last year with one colony or family and had the penthouse all full. Now we just bought another one for this year to fill.

    The question we have is: How exactly does one clean the nests out in the fall, or whenever it is the time to do it? What is the procedure? Can one rinse the cocoons, if that is what they are called?

    Thanks for the answer.

    Reply:

    Yes, the fall is the ideal time to wash your cocoons. Cocoons can be washed and nesting trays can be cleaned ready for spring. The washing process uses cold running water. Use a mild bleach solution for the last rinse. A good description of the washing process is included in my book POLLINATION WITH MASON BEES and it is shown on my DVD.

  • Fall Questions, Answers and Observations

    Something is eating my bees!

    Question:

    Something is getting into my nest. I noticed that all the mud plugs have been removed. I am not sure if there is anything left. I do have chicken wire (1-inch holes) over the nest (about 4 inches away from the front of the nest). But this does not seem to keep the predators away. Is there anything I should be doing extra to protect my bees? My neighbours across the road have a great apple crop, the next door neighbours are telling me that they are enjoying their pears….I don’t want to lose them.

    Reply:

    It sounds like chickadees or woodpeckers have been at your mason bee nest. If possible place the nest inside in an open carport or shed, or turn the nest around so the nest holes are facing the back of a shelf. Or place 1/2-inch chicken wire over the nest. Bulge the chicken wire around the nest. Another way of keeping the birds off was developed by Joe Sadowski. Cut a piece of 1/2-inch chicken wire or similar wire netting and hang it from a nail set into the peak of the roof. This swinging guard is surely going to keep the bees safe.

    Setting out nests

    Question:

    As far as setting out a nest, is there any way I could know, now, whether there are any bees to catch in my area (south Richmond, right beside the farmlands)? I don’t recall seeing any bees, other than a few big honey bees, this past summer. What I don’t want is to miss the opportunity for bees to move into my yard! With our house, we inherited a long neglected apple tree that I am determined to bring back to health. (The apple detectives at the fest figured my tree is a Cox’s Orange Pippin). Hence, a bee condo to ultimately help with pollination.

    When would I put out my nest with its “Rooms for Rent” sign? February? March? And if only a few showed up, would I still have time to buy some bees from you and everything would turn out?

    Reply:

    If you set out a nest, you may or may not have bees around for the following year. One way out this dilemma, is to buy some mason bees to get started. If you do have mason bees in your area, you would have a lot more bees for next year.  The timing is not quite right for seeing if you have bees and buying some later.

    Bees from the wild?

    Question:

    Is it necessary to purchase Osmia mason bees or can one “just build it and they will come?”

    Reply:

    The answer to your question is no, you do not have to buy mason bees. However if there are no mason bees in your neighborhood, you may want to buy mason bees to get the process started. Some people set out nests to see if they can catch some bees themselves. I recommend this technique. If you have no success in attracting bees, you can always buy them.

    How do I keep my mason bees healthy?

    Question:

    I have heard that if I want to make sure that my bees are healthy and continue pollinating my fruit trees that the bees need cleaning in the fall. Is this true and how do I do this?

    Reply:

    Yes, cleaning your mason bees in the fall helps them to continue living in your area. Mason bees have their pests and parasites and amongst them is a mite that feeds on the pollen meant for the growing mason bee larva. If nothing is done, these mites build up over a period of several years, with the result that very few bees are produced for pollinating your fruit trees.

    After August, the bee has formed into an adult, although she is still in a tightly fitting cocoon. Cocoons can be rinsed with a weak bleach solution and cleaned free of most mites. A rinse in clean water is important after the bleach rinse.

    My nests that uses trays with slots are the best for easily removing cocoons from the nest, cleaning the nest and getting the nest and cocoons ready for next year. I have cocoon cleaning workshops in the fall.

  • Summer Questions, Answers and Observations

    What fun!

    Comment:

    Thank you for spending time in Gibsons (BC) this spring and giving a talk on mason bees. You have a passion for your bees and it shows. My husband and I had a blast watching our out-door-pets. We have the Royal home and one little box of cocoons. We place them beside the picnic table. Our guests had a lesson on Mason bees whether they liked it or not! Well…success.  All the cocoons emerged and all but one condo has been taken. Of course the penthouse goes first, then the ground floor last. We were very sad when the last eggs were laid, but we also recognize that we will have our 100+ to deal with next year.

    Reply:

    We loved your story!

    Parasites and other critters (1)

    Question:

    When I inspected my bee houses 2 nights ago there was a critter in one of the channels that didn’t look like a mason bee.  It was there again tonight in the same hole. It’s back was facing out it had a black wing casing with brilliant yellow stripes around the outside of its wing casing. The tube in front of this critter was full of bright yellow pollen. Any ideas on this?

    Reply:

    If this critter had pollen on it…it is a bee of some kind. No pollen on the body and it could be a beneficial wasp….that collects larva, or spiders, or aphids for their young.

    Parasites and other critters (2)

    Question:

    On a biking trip through the Myra Canyon (Kelowna area) last Thursday, we came across hundreds of black parasitic wasp “look alikes” swarming around a clay bank. They had holes in the clay just large enough to get through. They were twice the size of the parasitic wasps I hatched, and their back “stinger” was quite long—Any ideas as to what these were ?

    Reply:

    In the dry interior of British Columbia, clay banks often provide the living quarters for a wonderful array of bees, their parasites, and in turn their parasites or ‘hyperparasites’. The ones that you saw are likely parasites of an insect, and it could be a bee. Their behaviour includes hovering around the face of the bank waiting for the females to leave the nest and then they scoot inside and parasitize the bee egg.

    Parasites and other critters (3)

    Question:

    On June 14th I noticed a parasitic wasp at the entrance of one of my bee condo holes. I managed to squish that one but I couldn’t get the other one at the far end of a partially filled hole. I guess I’m going to have to weed out a couple of cells in the spring, as I did this year.

    Reply:

    Another way of ‘catching’ those parasitic wasps at this time is to spray them out of the air with a fine mist and then squish them. Very effective to catch them while they are low in numbers.

    Cleaning Nest and Cocoons and When

    Question:

    Can you tell me when the larva are mature? I want to remove them from the tubes this year, as last year I lost many to mites. Thank you for you help and expertise.

    Reply:

    Yes, mites are a common problem and can be devastating to mason bees. First, the young bee larvae grows into a larger larvae, as they consume the pollen food left inside the nest by the female. The large larvae turns into a pupae which spins a cocoon, and then becomes an adult inside the cocoon by the end of the summer.

    I recommend that cleaning out the nests and cocoons be done between Oct and New Year. Note that mites inside the tubes multiply and compete for the pollen-bee larval food. Cleaning the cocoons in the fall is the easiest way to get rid of most of the mites.

    Success and the Weather

    Question:

    I guess you’re aware that it has been a slightly disappointing year for people trying to establish colonies. The weather I guess was too cold this spring. Do you have any thoughts or information on this that we can pass on to our customers.

    Reply:

    Temperature is the most important factor in determining whether bees are going to emerge, fly and forage. The warmer it is, the more active is the bee. Cold temperatures are a fact of life, but several things can be done to improve our chances of success.

    1. Set the nest up in a sunny location and out of the wind, in other words, the warmest location in your garden.
    2. Increase the number of bees set out in the spring. This increases your chance of success. In this case, more is better.
    3. Set a group of males and females out every 4-7 days. Some will succeed and others will not…mostly because of the weather.
    4. Keep cocoons refrigerated (under moist conditions, 2 to 4 degrees Centigrade) until April (up to the end of April) when temperatures are usually warmer than earlier in the spring.

    Number of bees per nesting tunnel

    Question:

    I checked our observation nest for the first time this year and was surprised to discover that all but one chamber appeared to have more than one larva in them. Also one tube was only half full with the last chamber not sealed off, however, I suspect that this was a work in progress.

    Reply:

    Yes, foraging is a dangerous business. Predators like spiders or birds can kill a bee before she has sealed a nest off and I know these predators can wipe out a whole lot of bees. On average, a completely filled 6″ nesting tunnel has 6 new mason bees inside. The number of bees in a nesting tunnel can be anywhere from 1 to 14.

    Tiny flying insects around the nest. What are they?

    Question:

    What are the little tiny insects that are hovering around my mason bee nests? They don’t seem be doing anything except fly around the nest, land on the face of the nests, and just hang around the nest. They are smaller than a mosquito, but more compact. They fly fast and I have not been able to catch any. They are out and about during the hot part of the day.

    Reply:

    These are Chalcid wasps. When they get the chance they lay an egg in the developing bee and produce many little wasps to infest more developing bees. If they build up in numbers, these wasps can seriously decrease the number of mason bees in your garden. I tried swatting them, but they fly so fast I cannot squash them like a mosquito. However, I have discovered a way of getting rid of them while they are in flight. I spray them with a very fine mist of water or vinegar using a misting sprayer. The little wasps fall out of the sky and then you can squash them. Avoid spraying your bees, the vinegar may have a similar effect on them.

    Unwanted ‘Beehive’

    Question:

    Can you please answer my questions. Today I discovered a rather large beehive (the size of a basketball) in the shrubbery adjacent to the pool. The bees seem to be swarming directly around the hive. The bees seem more numerous and intense with noise the children are making while playing and swimming in the pool as well as while walking around the perimeter of the pool. How do I remove beehive safely? Or, is there a specific individual or company that removes beehives and if so what heading/category do I search for removal. The bees that appear to occupy this hive are what I refer to as “Yellow Jackets” quick little bees that seem to like to sting. Any info will be greatly appreciated. Thanks much.

    Reply:

    Yes these sound like Yellow Jackets. Pest Control Companies do destroy insects with an insecticide and then remove nests. Please consult them.

    Spinning cocoon report

    Question:

    Thought I’d let you know that my orchard mason bees have started spinning themselves into their cocoons. Larvae half way down a couple of the tubes were the first ones to spin their cocoons – about three days ago. The first egg laid did not spin into a cocoon until yesterday. In the morning the larvae was clearly visible. Last night after supper it was a cocoon. The cocoons are light magenta, not gray as we see them in the fall. Sometime between now and the fall they must change colour.

    Reply:

    My Osmia lignaria have not started spinning yet. The grubs are pretty big though. Sounds like the resting period between grub and spinning the cocoon is VERY short indeed.

    Black bumble bees

    Question:

    Hi, I have a wonderful little balcony container-plant garden. I recently saw a huge flying thing that at first I thought might be a horsefly but someone suggested to me that it was probably a black bumble bee. Anyhow, it’s large and seems to have an attitude that is unfriendly. This darn critter chased me off my balcony and then acted like it was going to get into my apartment where I have more container plants. Even though my screen door was closed this creature kept flying up to my screen door and acted like it was going to fly in. My question, are you at all familiar with this insect that I’ve described. Is there a natural way to discourage it from visiting my balcony. Someone suggested that if I wash the ledge of the balcony with dish detergent and water and spray such a solution on my plants that would work. What do you advise?

    p.s. I noticed this mini-football size insect seemed to like my succulent plant that was in bloom — think it’s called Christmas cactus or Easter cactus.

    Reply:

    You posted an interesting question. I have always tried to attract bees, including bumble bees. They are such fun to watch especially when they are feeding on flowers that I have planted. The bumble bee that you saw was probably a queen looking for food so that she will survive the winter during hibernation. Perhaps the bumble bee came towards you because of some kind of scent. Hair shampoos usually have scents in them, and are very attractive to bees. If you do not want to attract bees, choose red flowers, such as geraniums, tulips. These flowers no longer have nectaries and bees do not usually forage on red flowers.

    Under House

    Question:

    I have noticed bumble bees going into the space under my house, are they a problem or can I just leave them alone? Thanks.

    Reply:

    They will only be around for another 2 to 3 weeks. If you can leave them, that would be great. If you want to prevent the bees from setting up shop next year, look and see if they are getting into the insulation. In the fall, plug up this hole. Thank you for letting nature take its course.

    Weather and Moving Nests

    Question:

    In April 1998, I purchased 10 pairs of mason bees from you; 1998 produced about 23 plugs; 2005 produced about 155 plugs. Nearly all my plugs this year are in square holes; size 5/16 and 9/32 – no apparent preference. Clean square holes seemed to be preferred to last year’s used round holes. I tried 3 kinds of wood (pine, yellow & red cedar). No apparent preference. I tried to supply them with mud, with very limited success; next I plan to examine the mud and see if I can concoct a mix they like.

    As usual I have a few questions:

    1. If the weather had not turned so rainy in May, would I have gotten more production, or would the girls have just run out of steam sooner?
    2. Can I safely(carefully) move a bee box when larvae are present, or do I need to wait until they pupate? (I have a box on a shed that I need to do construction on, and don’t want to disturb the colony).

    Reply:

    Thank you for your results and congratulations. Your story is a success.

    1. Yes with better weather, we all would have had better production.
    2. If you have to move the bee house, remove and place it in another warm sunny spot. Take care that the nests are in the same orientation and larvae have not rolled off their pollen food in their nests. Once they are off their food they cannot return. They starve and then die.

    Flowers as food for your bees

    Question:

    I have had great success growing borage. Mine self-seeded from last year’s flowers. There are many varieties of daisy that provide food for the bees. It must be easy to make a bee garden. Do you have a list of flowers I can grow that would provide food for my bees?

    Reply:

    I am gathering this information. Please email me if you know of certain varieties of flowering plants that are exceptional in attracting bees.

    Sex determination in mason bees

    Question:

    I found this reference on the web from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Could this be the means of sex determination in mason bees – an unfertilized egg becoming a male?

    The ovary of the queen bee is composed of several hundred ovarioles, each of which contains about 60 eggs and so-called nutrition cells. The so-called spermatheca, a sperm reservoir that collects sperm from the male in the course of several matings, connects with the oviduct, through which eggs are carried to the outside. The sperm can remain alive and viable in the fluid medium of the spermatheca for several years. When an egg passes down the oviduct, it may or may not be fertilized by emerging sperm, according to the “discretion” of the female. Fertilization occurs if the female relaxes a muscular ring around the sperm duct, thus allowing the duct to open and sperm to pass through. Since unfertilized eggs result in males and fertilized eggs result in females, the queen determines the sex of the offspring by relaxing or closing the muscular ring.

    Reply:

    Yes, this is how it happens.

  • Spring Questions, Answers and Observations

    How do I know if my bees have emerged?

    Question

    I bought one of your mason bee nests and a package of the washed mason bee cocoons. I set the nest and the cocoons out 2 weeks ago. How do I know when the bees have emerged?

    Answer:

    There are two easy methods for determining  whether your mason bees have emerged from their cocoons. Mason bees chew a hole through the cocoon to exit, leaving bits and pieces of the cocoons shell. Some are more intact than others. After hanging about for a few minutes the bee defecates a very light brown coloured faeces. Seeing either of these indicators tells you that some bees have emerged. The males emerge first (small tuft of white hairs on the front of the face) and females follow. The speed of emergence depends on the temperature. Warmer temperatures speed up emergence.

    Site for my mason bee condo

    Question:

    Hello, I have a bee house that I put up last year about the middle of March. It is facing east and in the sun but I think it needs to have more protection from the wind. (No bees moved into it last year.) The only other option I have to place it facing east would be in my garden next to the fence. What I would like to know is if the height of about 4 feet would be enough and if the bees will tolerate the close vicinity to me when I am gardening. Thank you for providing this email access, Lynn.

    Answer:

    Mason bees will go about their business even if you are standing right in front of the nest. An east or south orientation works well. Keep in mind that mason bees need the sun, and more sun. Mason Bees need the sun to warm up and get going. Depending on where you live moving the nest now could be too late. If one or two bees are using the nest, then these bees will be lost. You could add a nest in a new and warmer spot. East facing with some wind might be better than a fence post, since there is probably more air movement around a fence post, unless it is in the sun and completely out of the wind. Keep in mind that these bees need sun, more sun and more sun. Height of the nest is not critical. Close to the ground is not recommended because of rain splash. Set a nest so you can look and watch the bees at work. Check out my web site BeeDiverse.com for more details. My book “Pollination with Mason Bees” is an easy-to-read guide on how to look after these bees with success. If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.

    Cleaning nests?

    Question:

    How do I clean out the nest with a drill bit without killing the bees? I was reading an article the other day about Mason Bees and have a question maybe you can help me with. The article said that every two years you should clean out the holes in the old blocks by running a drill bit in the holes to clean out and to prevent disease.

    The question is, when do you do this so as to not kill the bees that are in the blocks? Is this a good idea or do the Mason bees take care of the cleaning? I assume that they come back and use the holes that they came out of? Any help would be appreciated.

    Answer:

    You are right, it is impossible to clean out nesting holes without killing the ‘just about to hatch bees’ or the ‘newly laid eggs and developing young’. The reason for cleaning the nest and the cocoons is to keep the pollen-feeding mite numbers down and the bee numbers up. The more mites, the fewer bees. In 3 years the bee population can dwindle down to only a few mason bee especially if you live on the coast in relatively humid regions. If you want lots of bees for pollination, cleaning out the nest is the way to go. If you are curious, and want more information on how to keep mason bees with continued success, read my book “Pollination with Mason Bees”.  Let me know which city you live near, and I can let you know the closest store to you that carries my book and the BeeDiverse® Products line of mason bee houses or you can order by mail order. For more information and photos of the book and the products check out beediverse.com. If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.

    Can I make my own nests?

    Question:

    I live on a small farm in Tennessee. I love helping nature out a little, because she does so much for us. I wondered if I could use brown Kraft paper. I could roll up a small strip, stick it in the hole then spread it out with a dowel. This way it would not have to be glued.

    Answer:

    Yes, rolled paper will work and a 5/16th hole is the best.

    Can I use plastic straws that are 5/16″?

    Question:

    Can I use plastic straws that are 5/16″?

    Answer:

    Plastic straws are very slippery and bees have a great deal of difficulty in using them. They will use them if there is absolutely nothing else for them to nest in. Normally you get 6 cocoons for every 6″ tunnel. A plastic straw will yield you 1-2 per straw.

    Food Plants for Mason Bees

    Question:

    I wonder if you have a list of flowers (annuals) that I could plant now that I am planning my summer garden? Flowers that attract and are food for the precious little Masons! I don’t think you have that information listed on your website (which is looking very attractive, may I say?).

    Answer:

    A friend of mine gave me this list of bee-attractive plants. Please note the spelling may not be correct. If you find other bee attractive plants we can add to the list…let me know. Annual; mignonette (reseda), alyssum (any colour), Perennials penstemon, any kind horned rampion, stachys lanata, rosea rugosa, roses damask, roses hybrid, musk roses, English austin roses, monarda, lemon balm, crocus grape, hyacinths, campasula, echinacea, heuchera, delphinium, lavendar – hidcote, origanum herren hausen.

    Bees For Sale

    Question:

    I went to one of your mason bee work shops in Sapperton two weeks ago and bought a kit and some bees from you. I would like to get one more container of bees. Do you sell them in any shops in the Coquitlam area, or do I need to mail order them from you? Also do you sell the straws with the bees in them? My 7 year-old son is really interested in what I am doing and I thought it would be neat for him to open a couple to see for himself.

    Answer:

    Yes we have Beediverse products at garden stores and wild bird stores. Let us know if you need more information about store locations. You can also mailorder them directly from us. Please check our catalogue on this web site.

    Bumble Bees

    Question:

    I’ve been watching bees in my garden and saw a very different one, sort of small bumble bee size, black with yellow fuzzy and with the back half of the aft segment being reddish or brownish. I haven’t seen one like that before. Is this a common thing I’ve never noticed? (Probably) I’ve seen several other, smaller bees that I haven’t had a good look at. I’m looking for mason bees of course. All the ones I’ve seen have been too yellow, or so it seems to me. My (neighbor’s)

    Japanese. plum is in full glory and that’s where I saw the red abdomen bee, with my binoculars. The other bees were around pink heather and Pieris japonicum white flowers. Funny how all it takes is a little bit of change in awareness to see so much more.

    Answer:

    The bumble bee with the red abdomen is Bombus melanopygus. It is fairly common here in BC and is one of the first ones out and about in the spring.

    Free Bees

    Question:

    A friend told me she had seen an article in the Abbotsford newspaper about Orchard Mason bees. I have a large back yard with lots of flowers and an old Gravenstine apple tree that need pollination. Can you help me? Thanks for your help.

    Answer:

    Yes mason bees are available in garden stores in the Lower Mainland of Vancouver and in other localities. Bees and nests for these bees are available at most garden stores. Give me a call and I will let you know other stores with bees for sale. Have a great spring.

    Getting My Bees Started

    Question:

    I just today bought a little container of bees in cocoons which I on the advice of the nursery have put in my fridge for now. What am I supposed to do with the cocoons. Put one in each hole in the house? Leave them in the cardboard box and set them outside close to the house or straws? Help!!

    Answer:

    Bought nests have the advantage of being ready to hang up in your garden. But of course rolling your own straws is a great alternative. When you have your bee house fixed into place on a warm south or east facing wall, get your box of bees ready in the following way. Create exit hole for emerging bees, by removing tab from box. Place box adjacent to your bee house. BeeDiverse® Products bee houses have an attic on top of the nesting trays for easy release of these bees.

    Mud for Your Mason Bees

    Question:

    Would the bees find the steeper and drier slopes of West Vancouver a good environment for breeding? In other words would they find enough mud to do their work? We do have mud daubing wasps in this area. I look forward to your reply as I want to start some nests here as well as introducing my grandchildren in White Rock to this interesting bee.

    Answer:

    Steeper and drier slopes are great for ground nesting bees, but depending on the severity of the conditions are likely unsuitable for mason bees. I recomend digging a one foot square hole in the vicinity of your nest, this removes the top layer of organic soil and exposes the mineral rich layer masons need for building their nest.

    Mason Bees for Your Apartment

    Question:

    I’m e-mailing you on behalf of my father. My father lives in a condo with a 12′ x 30′ outside deck. He has 3 dwarf apple trees on this deck. Last year he pollinated the trees himself and harvested fruit from two-thirds of the trees. He also has the occasional summer BBQ on this deck. How does he go about getting these Mason Bees and is there potential conflict(stinging, etc.) with the bees being in close proximity to the BBQ area?

    Answer:

    Your father is a great candidate for setting up his own mason bee nest. Condo owners on the fourth floor are having great success. Mason bees are a friendly pollinator and your barbeque guests can stand right in front of the nest without these little pollinators bothering anyone. The mason bees are so preoccupied with their building work they will fly around you to get at their nest. Mason bees usually emerge in March and are around until about late May. If your father wants a ready-to-hang nest I have either a plain or handpainted design, and trays or straws if he’s a do-it-yourselfer. You can place orders through email ([email protected]) or phone my office at 1-800-794-2144. Thankyou for your questions and let me know how the dwarf apple tree crop does next year.

    What to do with bee cocoons

    Question:

    Getting My Bees Started. I just today bought a little container of bees in cocoons that I (on the advice of the nursery) have put in my fridge for now. I haven’t bought a bee house yet…. What am I supposed to do with the cocoons. Put one in each hole in the house?

    Answer:

    When you have your bee house fixed into place on a warm south or east-facing wall, get your container of bees ready in the following way. Create an exit hole by opening one end of the box. Place the box inside your bee home and adjacent to nesting tunnels. BeeDiverse® bee houses have an attic on top of the nesting trays for easy release of these bees

  • Success With Overwintering Cocoons using a cooler-Beediverse

    With every technique and system there is a good way to do it and there is a not so good way to do it.  It is the same for various techniques used to safely overwinter bee cocoons.  There are 3 main things to keep in mind when storing mason bees:

    • Keeping predators from eating bee cocoons
    • Preventing bee cocoons from drying out
    • Preventing bees from coming out earlier  and or in the wrong place (like a storage shed)

    The easiest way to keep rodents away from eating the cocoons  is to store them inside a fridge.   To keep cocoons from dehydration inside a fridge place cocoons into a Humidity cooler.  But do check for water inside the Humidity Cooler.  An alternative is to store them outside.  If outside storage is preferred, keep cocoons in a cookie tin with a few air holes in the lid.

    Adding water onto a pad to keep cocoons moist.

     

    The metal tin will prevent predation.  Outside storage only works however until temperatures warm up.  The cocoons will have to be moved to the mason bee home for release as Spring arrives.  Releasing them from a Castle or other home will make sure the bees emerge at the right time at the right location.

    A small fridge with manual defrost is the best fridge for storing mason bee cocoons.

  • Not just pesticides…

    From the World of Bees 22 Jan.  Editor Fran Bach

    “A chemical that is thought to be safe and is, therefore, widely used on crops — such as almonds, wine grapes and tree fruits — to boost the performance of pesticides, makes honey bee larvae significantly more susceptible to a deadly virus, according to researchers at Penn State and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

    “In the lab, we found that the commonly used organosilicone adjuvant, Sylgard 309, negatively impacts the health of honey bee larvae by increasing their susceptibility to a common bee pathogen, the Black Queen Cell Virus,” said Julia Fine, graduate student in entomology, Penn State. “These results mirror the symptoms observed in hives following almond pollination, when bees are exposed to organosilicone adjuvant residues in pollen, and viral pathogen prevalence is known to increase. In recent years, beekeepers have reported missing, dead and dying brood in their hives following almond pollination, and exposure to agrochemicals, like adjuvants, applied during bloom, has been suggested as a cause.”

    According to Chris Mullin, professor of entomology, Penn State, adjuvants in general greatly improve the efficacy of pesticides by enhancing their toxicities.

    “Organosilicone adjuvants are the most potent adjuvants available to growers,” he said. “Based on the California Department of Pesticide Regulation data for agrochemical applications to almonds, there has been increasing use of organosilicone adjuvants during crop blooming periods, when two-thirds of the U.S. honey bee colonies are present.” Fine noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classifies organosilicone adjuvants as biologically inert, meaning they do not cause a reaction in living things.

    “As a result,” she said, “there are no federally regulated restrictions on their use.”

    To conduct their study, the researchers reared honey bee larvae under controlled conditions in the laboratory. During the initial stages of larval development, they exposed the larvae to a low chronic dose of Sylgard 309 in their diets. They also exposed some of the larvae to viral pathogens in their diets on the first day of the experiment.

    “We found that bees exposed to the organosilicone adjuvant had higher levels of Black Queen Cell Virus,” said Fine. “Not only that, when they were exposed to the virus and the organosilicone adjuvant simultaneously, the effect on their mortality was synergistic rather than additive, meaning that the mortality was higher from the simultaneous application of adjuvant and virus than from exposure to either the organosilicone adjuvant or the viral pathogen alone, even if those two mortalities were added together,” said Fine. “This suggests that the adjuvant is enhancing the damaging effects of the virus.”

    The researchers also found that a particular gene involved in immunity — called 18-wheeler — had reduced expression in bees treated with the adjuvant and the virus, compared to bees in the control groups.

    “Taken together, these findings suggest that exposure to organosilicone adjuvants negatively influences immunity in honey bee larvae, resulting in enhanced pathogenicity and mortality,” said Fine.

    The results appeared Jan. 16 in Scientific Reports.

    Mullin noted that the team’s results suggest that recent honey bee declines in the United States may, in part, be due to the increased use of organosilicone adjuvants.

    “Billions of pounds of formulation and tank adjuvants, including organosilicone adjuvants, are released into U.S. environments each year, making them an important component of the chemical landscape to which bees are exposed,” he said. “We now know that at least Sylgard 309, when combined at a field-relevant concentration with Black Queen Cell Virus, causes synergistic mortality in honey bee larvae.”

    Read more…

     

  • Common insecticides are riskier than thought, to predatory-insects

    News from the World of Bees  14 Jan 2017

    Neonicotinoids — the most widely used class of insecticides — significantly reduce populations of predatory insects when used as seed coatings, according to researchers at Penn State. The team’s research challenges the previously held belief that neonicotinoid seed coatings have little to no effect on predatory insect populations. In fact, the work suggests that neonicotinoids reduce populations of insect predators as much as broadcast applications of commonly used pyrethroid insecticides.  Direct from Penn state web site.  Read more….

  • Length of bee tongues

    This received via Dave Stocks at the Gilroy, CA, ‘The Buzz’, reprinted
    there from Bee Thinking, which took it from the online publication

    BEE TONGUES AND FLOWERS REVEAL EVOLUTION IN OVERDRIVE

    Living on a mountain is hard for bees and flowers. It’s cold. There’s
    extreme weather. And new research has found it getting even harder for
    both flowers and bees to make a living in alpine environments lately.
    Scientists compared over 40 years of mountain bumblebee and flower records
    on three Colorado mountains and found major decreases in both bees and
    flowers. But they also found clear evidence of rapid evolution by the bees,
    suggesting it.s not time to give up on mountain bumble bees just yet.
    Entomologists and botanists get teased about traveling the world, meeting
    interesting insects and plants, and then killing them. But it’s a morbid
    habit that pays off; it creates a long-term, stable record of the
    biological past. Museum collections may look like a creepy charnel house to
    outsiders, full of corpses, pins, and mothballs. Our libraries of dead
    things become a book of evolutionary change for future scientists to read.

    Preserving organisms from taxonomic or ecological studies lets us travel
    back in time. People are always interested in having their data looked at
    and reanalyzed in a different way, a way that they hadn’t thought about
    previously. That is one of the great things about having open access data,
    said Dr. Nicole Miller-Struttmann, lead author on the new bumble bee study.

    To investigate how flowers and bumble bees changed, a team of scientists
    dug through over 40 years of records. They tracked down thousands of bumble
    bee specimens collected on mountains in Colorado between 1966 and 1980, and
    compared them to bumblebees collected in the same areas between 2012 and
    2014. They also used herbarium specimens of flowers collected during
    similar time frames and surveyed flowers in the field.

    Plants on mountains often have very narrow temperature tolerances; too much
    heat can reduce flowering. On one of the mountains in the study, between
    1960 to 1985, only 12 percent of the years were hot enough to reduce
    flowering. Since 1985, 48 percent of years were too hot for flowers that
    bumblebees typically forage on.

    Since 1970, the total number of flowers available for bees on the mountain
    study sites declined by 60 percent overall. What did that mean for bees?

    Over 95 percent of bees in the study regions between 1966 and 1980 were
    just two species of long-tongued bees. These bees specialize in flowers
    with a narrow, elongated tubular shape. Their long tongue means they are
    able to reach the nectar hidden at the bottom of a flower and can muscle
    out their shorter-tongued relatives. This is an example of coevolution,
    where two species reciprocally affect each other over evolutionary time.

    Bees collected from 2012 to 2014 were different, though. The long-tongued
    species of bumble bees declined by 24 percent. At the same time, warming
    temperatures and changes in flowering plants allowed some lower altitude
    bees to live at higher mountain elevations. The entire community of bumble
    bees changed. Long-tongued bumble bees responded to the scarcity of flowers
    by becoming less selective; the range of plants they foraged on changed
    significantly and included flowers with no long nectar tubes.
    The scientists wondered if the bees physically changed too, and measured
    body length and tongue length on their historic and modern bee specimens.
    How do you measure a bee’s tongue? Miller-Struttmann explains: They tuck
    their tongue back into their body, so they sort of fold it back up along
    their chin, I guess you could say. We had to re-hydrate historic specimens,
    and then fold the tongue out, and then measure it under a microscope with
    calipers.

    What no one expected was that the tongues of long-tongued bees would get
    shorter. A lot shorter.  A 24 percent decrease in tongue length is really
    dramatic, says Miller-Struttmann. That was in 40 years, in 40
    generations, I should say, because these bumblebees only have one
    generation a year. That’s a pretty short period of time to see such a
    dramatic shift. Bumble bee bodies also got slightly smaller, but not as
    much as the tongues shrank. The research team did not find changes in the
    depth of the flowers bumble bees were visiting. The bees shape changed,
    but the flowers didn’t.  Building and maneuvering a big tongue takes energy, and bees with shorter
    tongues may have done better at diverting that energy into more babies. In
    the short term, the bumble bees seem to be hanging on. But what about
    longer term?

    Right now, bumblebees and the plants they historically fed on are
    mismatched physiologically. The bees may not be as good a pollinator for
    those plants, which could cause further declines in flowers. In the long
    term, perhaps they will also evolve, but they’re much longer-lived species.  Their generation time is decades, not yearly. Change will be slower or may
    not happen at all.

    Dr. David Inouye has researched flowers and alpine bees at the Rocky
    Mountain Biological Laboratory for decades. He said, This study is a great
    example of the value of archiving data an example of a change in bumble
    bees that is unexpected, and would not have been discovered without access
    to historical data. We have evidence from elsewhere in the Rocky Mountains
    that bumble bee queens of eight species have moved up 230 m in altitude over
    about the same time span, and these kinds of changes in bumble bee
    communities will have interesting consequences over both ecological and
    evolutionary time scales.

    This study also highlights a common problem for mountain or other remote
    refuges as the climate warms, the places where plants and animals=
    thrive move slowly away from the areas we’ve designated for their conservation. By
    increasing areas set aside for nature, or making sure we have connections
    between isolated nature refuges, we can try to help bees and plants adapt
    to our new warmer world.

    —–

  • Where does food come from?

    News from the world of bees Nov 29th 2016

    Do you know where your food comes from? If you enjoy crisp apples, juicy tomatoes, and plump berries, thank a farmer, thank a scientist, and thank a bee. We need strong, healthy and diverse bee populations to provide pollination for us to eat our most healthful food . While we can all thank a bee, the Penn State undergraduate students who received the 2016 Apes Valentes Undergraduate Research awards directly contributed to our understanding of how to keep bees healthy.

    Read more…