Tag Archives: mason bees

2011 Mason Bees

Here’s a montage of the 2010 mason bees:

I have written about our mason bees before:
In March 2010, when we installed the bee house.
Again in March, when they started to emerge.
When they filled the first hole in April 2010.
We checked on their progress in May 2010.
In June 2010, when activity slowed down in the bee house.
And, finally, in February 2011 when they were all quietly waiting for spring.

But a lot has happened between now and then, and somehow I never got back here to do a 2011 clean-up and re-start mason bee post. Now it’s June again and I haven’t written a thing about them. This generation of mason bees has some serious second child neglect. Please don’t tell them you prefer photos of fluffy adorable chicks.

In March 2011, I brought the mason bee house inside and cleaned it out. This is important because I left the bee house outside all summer, which meant that summer bees built on top of spring bees. So when the spring bees hatched, they would either die because they couldn’t get out, or kill the summer bees on their way out. Ideally, a person might have a system to accommodate both spring and summer bees but, well, we’re experimenting. Anyway, I cleaned out the bee house.

Inside, each tube has layers from the front to the back.
mud wall – cocoon – frass (waste products) – mud wall – cocoon – frass (repeat)

A single cocoon looks like this:

Then we hung the house out again, nice and clean. I put all the cocoons in an up-cycled yogurt container. Krista asked me why I insisted on stuffing garbage into our cute bee house, so I guess I need a new strategy for next year.

The weather this year has been, in one word, awful and the masons have struggled accordingly. We have seen some activity around the house, like this little lady. It was a relief to spot her after I had almost given up on any mason bees this year.

They filled the first hole at the beginning of May — later than last year. The bees seemed busy every nice day we had, but there weren’t many. Now it is June and the mason bee season has passed. Forgive this stylized camera phone photo; we got new cell phones and I’m a little obsessed. This is the progress they made.

At this time last year we had 20 mud-filled holes. This year, we have 12. I read the Cliff Mass Weather Blog, which has great information on western Washington weather patterns, and they are reporting:

The new numbers for the average March through May temperatures at Sea-Tac are in, and by any reasonable measure (average temperature, average maximum), this has been the coldest March through May at Sea-Tac since dependable records are available (1956).

Lets begin by viewing the 5 coldest springs ( average daily temperature for March-May) in the last 55 years from 1957 through 2011 at SeaTac:

1) 2011 47.6
2) 1975 47.8
3) 2002 47.9
4) 1964 48.0
5) 1962 48.0

My bee experiences are only anecdotal, but I suspect this weather affected my mason bees. Other western Washington beekeepers are reporting normal to good mason bee production this year, so maybe it’s just me. Furthermore, I hypothesize that some of our mason bees are using alternate accommodations – cracks between the wood shingle siding of our house, perhaps? I am not going to excavate the siding to find out, but I have seen enough bees buzzing around to think it might be true.

Last year, we had a flurry of summertime solitary bee activity. I don’t know what species they are, but they managed to fill another 8 holes before fall. So now I’m waiting for the summer bee activity – we have plenty of room for them, obviously.


Filed under bees, spring

the mason sleeps real good

The other night, we caught some mason bees resting with their little butts hanging out, pollen sprinkled all across the porch like they had a raging party and then passed out. I don’t know what was actually happening since I don’t understand mason bee-havior very well, but it was adorable.

Our mason bees are nearing the end of their season. They are rarely seen after June around here, so we have a few more weeks with these darling insects. The mason bees have been far more interesting than I expected. We got them for curiosity’s sake and a sense of obligation to our native pollinators, and maybe a little bit for the love of our fruit trees. But watching them come and go, filling their little tunnels with mud and buzzing around in their beautiful shiny blue-blackness, I have really fallen for their single-minded industrious charm.

They’ve filled in twelve of the holes now. Yesterday there were only 10, so they are really picking up the pace. Every evening, Levi hustles out to the patio to check on the bees and report back, “I think it’s eleven now… no, twelve!”

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Filed under bees, spring

Mason update

The mason bees are busy! They are buzzing around like crazy, which brings out the human instinct to swat them away. It’s good practice for us all, since our honey bees will arrive next weekend.

Most of the mason bees are out & about, perfectly on time with the bloom of the fruit trees. We came home from vacation to find this — the first filled hole! Behind that little dried mud door, there is a series of mason bee eggs and a supply of food for each. Hopefully they will spend the summer pupating, growing, and hatch into adults by fall. They will spend the whole winter in their cocoons, snacking on the food supply their mom left for them, and hatch next spring to be our next generation of mason bees.

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Filed under bees, spring

hello, friends

We’ve checked on the mason bees sporadically since we hung the royal house three weeks ago. Recently, we discovered that some of the tubes have started popping open. Usually the males are nearest the outside, so they come out first and hang around, waiting for the ladies so they can do the deed. Only very few of the cocoons have opened so far, and I haven’t seen much activity around the house. The weather has been practically warm during the day, so I’m hopeful that things will pick up in the near future. At least some of the bees came out. It almost disproves the theories that I bought dead bee cocoons or that I murdered them by keeping them in the fridge. For the record, I didn’t invent the ‘store them in the fridge’ thing. I read it somewhere. The cold is supposed to keep them from waking up too early in the year. It sounded like a reasonable theory, so into the crisper they went. My fingers are crossed that it wasn’t a fatal error, and that we see a lot more of these little bees soon.

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Filed under bees, spring, urban farming

Mason Bees

After months of anticipation, this weekend I decided it was time to hang out the mason bees. These tiny, non-stinging native bees are the earliest pollinators around here. (correction: mason bees *can* sting, but they rarely do, unless you step on them or squeeze them, and then maybe you deserve it?) They’re only active for a few months – usually March, April, May, and barely into June – but they play a really critical role before all the other pollinator species reach critical mass in the spring.

It’s been unseasonably warm, and all the plum and cherry trees appear to be blooming. Even though it’s technically still winter for another three weeks, I’m hoping we avoid more solid cold freezes. (isn’t everyone?) Our last freeze date is technically Mother’s Day – seems like that is a million years in the future. It’s a good thing, too, because I haven’t started a single seed yet.

I pulled the bees out of the fridge where they’ve been sleeping for the past few months. They are packed in cocoons, which are protected by the walls of mud their mother built last summer back when they lived in Oregon, before they were delivered to me in the mail. This keeps them safe from a variety of things, predators, extreme weather, forgotten leftover food growing colonies of aliens in the back of our fridge, etc.

I nestled the straws of cocoons into the Royal House. This will keep them fairly well protected and dry until they break out of the mud walls.

I had a little help from the Chihuahua division of the Mason Bee Inspector Society. She hates it when I put her on top of the rain barrel, can you tell?

I attached the adorable yellow front, which protects from predators like wood peckers. Then I hung the Royal House a little above my head, so we can see the bees coming and going. Now, we wait for them to come out, start pollinating, and create the next generation of bees.


Filed under bees, urban farming, winter