• Yurt 2010 -Cherry and Apple Blossoms

    A beautiful cherry tree in full bloom.  Something to look forward to!

     I have one of the yurts on this property.  The neighbours came over and asked the owner of the property what that funny blue structure was in his yard.  Not even the bees on the wall gave them a clue that this was our newest yurt!  The bees love it.  I love it.  No worries about wind or rain.  Lots of warmth inside the yurt to keep the larva warm during the day.

    The Yurt was placed in a sunny spot away from trees or buildings that might throw a shadow on it.

    Apple trees in full bloom with yurt in the centre of the picture, behind the trees.
  • Eco-Corn Quicklock trays houses summer solitary bees as well!

    The Eco-CORN Quicklock nesting trays produced by Beediverse Products provides housing not only for spring mason bees, but other insects as well.

    We are not sure what the bee species is in this photograph, but  it shows the yellow pollen carried on the base of the bees’ abdomen.  This makes it a solitary bee in the Megachilidae family – the same family as the mason bee Osmia lignaria and the alfalfa leaf cutter bee, Megachilidae rotundata.  Gary G. from Sechelt, British Columbia, sent these photos to me for publishing on this blog.  They were taken on 15th July 2010.

    The rough mud plugs are typical of the early spring mason bee.

    

    A summer solitary bee species using a nesting tunnel of a LODGE with Corn Quicklock nesting trays  www.beediverse.com

     The big advantage in using Quicklock trays (as in this photo) is that they can be pulled apart and cleaned.  Cleaning nesting trays removes mites and other debris so that cleaned nests can be used each year. In these photos you can see that two pieces of nesting trays make up 6 nesting cavities/tunnels.  Each nesting tray neatly fits together to make 30 nesting holes.  The name of this house is the LODGE and is available from your garden store or on line at   www.Beediverse.com.

    Note that no paper liners are necessary with this system.  The internal walls of the tunnels have a mat finish to counter the usual slippery finish of plastic material and these nesting trays are made from 80% CORN material making them more attractive to bees than straight plastic.

    Especially in the wet west coast climate, avoid mold on the surface of cocoons (although this can be washed off with bleach water) by opening up nest early in the fall.  Late September is a good time to harvest cocoons and clean out your mason bee nests.

  • Yurt made from re-bar

    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
    wall.

    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. 
  • Washing nests and houses, few versus many

    Lots of nesting trays for cleaning!

    For  gardeners, setting out nests, harvesting cocoons and cleaning cocoons and cleaning nests is manageable.  I always say- do it early in the fall and then it is DONE!   However, when Christmas comes around there are always nesting trays that have escaped the early fall cleaning session!

    It is more difficult if the nest cleaning is done in the middle of winter because the drying process has to be done inside.  This is no problem with cocoons since these usually air dry in about an hour or so (dry cocoons is a cool room, otherwise bees will emerge).  But the housing or shelters plus the nesting trays need to dry too and you need space for that.  When you have as many nests as the upper picture, winter cleanup is near to impossible unless you have a barn or large space to do it in.

    Using  water, under high pressure
    for washing trays.

     When you have one or a dozen nests, cleaning them with a scrubbing brush is no problem.  But for larger quantities,  cleaning them becomes a big job.

    One year we had an opportunity to wash nesting trays with a high pressure hose.  Even though it was labour intensive because each trays had to be handled, the cleaning job was superb.  The water removed all signs of mud mites and other debris.

    Both trays and Highrise shelters were dried in the sun and readied for re-assembly.  This is easy because both the wooden nesting trays and the newer Quicklock Corn trays can be inserted into the Highrise shelter and hung up into our yurts or like in earlier years, can be set up in other types of structures.

    The Highrise- is a boon to managing mason bees in large quantities.

    Both Highrise and Quicklock nesting trays can be obtained from www.Beediverse.com

    Cleaned wooden nesting trays.
    Cleaned Highrise shelters drying
    in the sun.  (black containers in background
    are pots for blueberry plants- nothing
    to do with the washing process
    or mason bees)                  
  • Bumble bee in flight-summer

    With all this cold  snowy and icy weather around I thought a picture of a bumble bee flitting around should be the order for today.

  • 2011 Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle- Feb 23-27th

     

    Dr. Margriet Dogterom
    in the foreground

    
    
      Every year Beediverse Products are available at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show.  Jim Tunnel owner of Beez Neez (Snohomish)  has the booth at the show. 

    Date: Feb 23-27th, 2011.  Come and meet us at the booth.
    

    Beediverse Products at the Beez Neez booth.

    

    

    Jim with a customer
    These photos were taken in 2008.  We were kept  very busy with all the questions that gardeners have about mason bees.  It is a lot of fun. 
    This year, I will be doing  a 10-15 min  mini seminar three times each day:  10am, Noon and 4pm. 
    See you there!
  • Mason bee trial in a blueberry field

    These photos are bringing back some great memories of my time on the ‘farm’ with mason bees. 

    We tested various types of nests, and to duplicate these, I bought 50 small office garbage cans. 

    A set up used in a mason bee trial
    in blueberry field.

    I set each one on  top of a fence posts. 

    Unfortunately, bears could not resist going after the small amount of  pollen inside the nesting tunnels.  Several of the containers were smashed to pieces. 

    
    

    Mason bee trial in a blueberry field.  Bears smashed quite a few of the containers with mason bee nests.  In the distance two other containers are visible sitting on top of a post.

      After this, I realized that bears were one of the challenges for keeping mason bees in these fields.  I knew that bears go after honey bee hives, and yes, beekeepers kept their hives surrounded by electric fences.  But I did not think that bears would go after mason bee nests.  I guess early spring bears are hungry and anything goes. 

    In photos of previous posts, you can see the electric fence surrounding the nests.  It is easier to have many nests surrounded by one electric fence,  than having numerous locations each with an electric fence.   

    

    Large mason bee nesting area surrounded by
    an electric fence.

    

    But concentrating mason bees in one area begs the question about the distance that mason bees fly.  This of course will determine the distance between mason bee houses/set-ups.  Another factor for consideration is flower density.  Distances flown will depend on flower density.  The question I find most intriguing is whether the female to male ratio changes depending on the number of cocoons set out at any one location.  If you set out say 1000 cocoons will these produce more females then when you set up 20,000 cocoons?  A good PhD project for someone.
  • Steve E and his mini-yurt for almond pollination

    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.
  • No buildings for setting out nests in blueberry fields

    When I started  producing mason bees, I set the mason bee houses onto a barn and shed of a blueberry farm.  This was easy.  But the farmer also wanted mason bees in his blueberry field to make sure the mason bees were pollinating his blueberry flowers far from his home and barn.  But there are usually no buildings out in these commercial fields for setting out mason bee houses.
    Mason bee cocoons and their nests require a few basic essentials.  They need to stay dry and during the day need to be warm- in other words, a dry spot, in the sun and preferably out of cooling winds.
    I came up with using Garbage pails, set up on its side.  Theywere secured to a post and with a few other pieces of  lath, secured to the post because some of these places can be quite windy.  It worked rather well.  The set up time though was long because no field had the same type of post. 
    Tim setting up a “Mason Bee house”.

    Cardboard tubes were used at the time and bundles of these were set in the back of the container.  To help the bees orient to their nesting tunnel, cotton batten and “1” foam was interspersed amongst the layers of nesting tubes.

    The middle of the container was used the most by the bees.  On some days, under sunny conditions, it became very hot in the upper section of the container.  It looked like bees were avoiding the excessively hot area of tubes.  To “cool it down a little, I cut a small hole in the upper part of the “roof” of the container.

    There usually is a lip to a garbage container so that the lid can be fastened to the garbage pail.  Unfortunately, when the container was on its side, rain pooled in the rim drowning many bees.  I cut a drainage hole so that water would not pool in the rim.

    The container was set up about 4 feet above the ground to avoid the splash zone and also to avoid the cooler ground temperatures.

    When we started using routered nesting trays, these stacks did not fit very easily into the round container.

    We learned a lot from this trial. 

    The yurt was still a few years away!

  • Candling mason bee cocoons

    I have had some questions about candling mason bee cocoons.  Joe Sadowski from Burnaby, BC thought of this idea- and it works.  Candling is just like candling eggs.  In a dark room you shine a bright light under the cocoon.  With some experience, you can see the adult mason bee in a fetal position inside the cocoon.  You can also see empty cocoons or non- viable cocoons, where the larva has died and not developed into a adult bee. 

    Here is a batch of mason bee cocoons.  Mud has been washed off, and mites have been removed.  After washing them, cocoons take about an hour or so to dry and then candling can be done.

    Place dry cocoons on a petri dish or similar container,over a 6 Volt flashlight.  It is easiest to do the candling in a room without windows.

    Turn the lights off in the room and look at the cocoons.  You will be able to see right through empty cocoons.  In normal light, these cocoons look like normal viable cocoons.

    You can also see the viable cocoons with the bee inside the cocoon.

    Rock, move and rotate petri dish over the light.  The light scatters and allows you to see the non- viable cocoons.

    All cocoons sold at Beediverse are candled and non-viable cocoons removed.