A Different Kind of Harvest Party

bee blockFall is not only the time to harvest potatoes and pumpkins, but also your Mason Bee cocoons.

You gave them a nice place to nest and provided them with plenty of forage, now you want to make sure the next generation of bees makes it safely through winter and will emerge in peak condition next spring.

You could just leave your bee house outside and let nature take its course. But nature is not always kind to bees. Pests, predators, disease, mold, or rain could decimate your population. More importantly, here in the Pacific Northwest our winters are so mild that there is a danger your bees may emerge too early, before there is a consistent supply of pollen to sustain them.

harvest partyFollowing our successful neighborhood spring workshop we decided to reconvene and have a harvest party. It was a good opportunity to compare results and share pointers on how to overwinter the cocoons. Return rates in 2013 were average, but also quite variable. A couple of things we learned this year:

  • square nesting channels performed satisfactorily – the bees accepted them and return rates in these nesting trays were about average (compared to plastic trays and paper straws)
  • location is key – bee houses mounted in trees had very low return rates; possibly because bees did not have a line of sight and weren’t able to find their way back

cocoonsI am hoping we’ll get even better result from our wooden trays next year, since they have now acquired the smell of bees. Mason bees are very sensitive to scent. They use it to identify their nesting tube amongst dozens of others; and they prefer to make their home in a tube that had previously been occupied.

I’m already looking forward to next year and seeing what lessons the bees will teach us this time.

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