If you're looking for a pollinator that's easy to care for and effective at pollinating your garden, the mason bee might be just what you need. Unlike honeybees, mason bees are solitary bees that don't live in hives or produce honey. Instead, they nest in small holes or crevices in wood, making them perfect for urban gardeners who don't have a lot of space.
However, like any other animal, mason bees need proper care to thrive. Here are some tips on how to keep your mason bees healthy and happy:
1. When and why to harvest your cocoons
Mason bees lay their eggs in small holes or in the homes you provide. Once the larvae have matured and turned into bees, they chew their way out of the cocoons and fly away. However, if you leave the cocoons in the bee house all season parasites and predators like pollen mites and parasitic wasps can attack the cocoons and harm the developing bees.
To prevent this from happening, it's essential to harvest the cocoons and clean them before the bees emerge. Ideally, you should harvest the cocoons in December or January, but if life gets in the way, like it did for me, harvesting the cocoons in early spring before they hatch is ok.
- Inspect the cocoons
Once you've harvested the cocoons, it's time to inspect them for any signs of damage or disease. Healthy cocoons will be firm and have black bits, which are the larva's poop. However, unhealthy cocoons will have pollen mites, which are tiny parasitic mites that can attack the larva and eat them. If you see any signs of pollen mites, it's best to discard those cocoons.
- Clean and dry the cocoons
After inspecting the cocoons, it's time to clean them. You can use a kitchen colander to rinse them off and then lay them out on a paper towel to dry. You may need to pick out any non-viable cocoons, as some may have died during development or were parasitized by wasps.
- Store the cocoons
Once the cocoons are clean and dry, it's time to store them. You can keep them in a bee humidifier in the fridge until it's time to put them out. When you're ready to release them, place the cocoons in a bee house or nesting box in your garden.
- Clean the bee house
It's also essential to clean the bee house or nesting box every year to prevent the buildup of parasites and disease. You can use a brush and water to scrub the house, and then spray it with a bleach solution for added cleanliness.
With proper care and attention, your mason bees will thrive, pollinating your garden and bringing you joy with their buzzy antics. Just remember to check on them regularly and give them the care they need to be healthy and happy.
And if you forget to care for them, don't worry - life happens, and sometimes we forget things. You can still take care of your mason bees even if you forget to do it on time. After all, as they say, better late than never!