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orchard mason bees

 
paul wheaton
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Dave Miller
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If anyone is interested in providing mason bee nesting tubes/blocks you should place them now.   They will start using them in the next month or so.

I put up several bundles of teasel stems last year and the bees used almost every stem:





In the photos many of the stems are empty, but later they filled nearly every stem.

I messed up a bit though.  The twine I used started to fall apart in December so I moved the bundles into the garage, with the intent of tying them up better and putting them back in the same spot.  However on Feb. 20 they started to hatch while still in the garage.  I quickly moved the bundles back to their original spot outside under an eave, but the hatched bees kept trying to get back in the garage for several days.  I guess the males hatch first, then wait for the females to hatch so they can mate.  So it was probably the males hanging around the garage.

Anyway this weekend I put out some new bundles of both teasel and bamboo stems.  I'll try to get some photos of those.

Last year the bees began using the tubes in mid-April, which is when my apples were blooming.  (I am in SW Washington state).
 
Dave Miller
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I added a bunch more teasel and bamboo stems.  Here are the bees using them on 4/17.








This bee found some yellow pollen...

More here: http://s831.photobucket.com/albums/zz238/behindthewaterfall/Orchard%20Mason%20Bee%20Tubes%204-17-2010/?albumview=slideshow
 
Paul Cereghino
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Great pictures and great idea! I have never thought of bundles of hollow stems.  Duh!!
 
Alison Thomas
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COOL pictures.  Because we didn't consciously make nests for them, they've decided that the little manufactured holes in the shelving units of the wood house, and the ones under our outdoor table and benches are just perfect for them and are thanking us by laying eggs in all of them.  Tad of a nuisance under the table and benches though as most folk run a mile when they see a bee.  Shame on them.  I can see I'll have lots of gentle explaining to do this summer!  Then in the winter we'll block up those holes and make some purpose built condos for them 
 
Dave Miller
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heninfrance wrote:
COOL pictures.  Because we didn't consciously make nests for them, they've decided that the little manufactured holes in the shelving units of the wood house, and the ones under our outdoor table and benches are just perfect for them and are thanking us by laying eggs in all of them.  Tad of a nuisance under the table and benches though as most folk run a mile when they see a bee.  Shame on them.  I can see I'll have lots of gentle explaining to do this summer!  Then in the winter we'll block up those holes and make some purpose built condos for them 
Glad you like the photos.  A couple of thoughts:
1. The bees are very skittish.  Quick movements cause them to scatter, kind of like flies.  I think you would have to make them really really mad or scared before they would sting you.
2. Around here, the eggs hatch in March.  Please don't block the holes until they have hatched!
 
Kirk Hutchison
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Do they live all over the country?
 
                    
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Do mason bees make honey?
 
Brian White
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I have started something similar to the teazel stems for the solitary  bees. I make cob blocks and put in metal bars (from bike spoke size to 3/4 inch diameter. anything including knitting needles.  An couple of days later I remove the bars. You find that there are many types of bees and that they use the blocks for shelter and for brood.  The next stage was to put stems in. I went for raspberry canes, weed stems and dill, grape vines etc.    I found that they work much better in sunny locations. 
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=246092&id=736625766&l=26546198d6
and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkFjcoqI1gU
The main reasons for using cob and stems is variety of sizes (and the bees probably prefer the stems) and easy  to do.  There are about 90 holes in the bee block with stems.  Imagine drilling 90 holes in wood. 
There are probably 4 types of bees nesting in my cob bee block right now! The block with stems was started only a few days ago so they will probably start using that in a week or so.
I am hoping for a few leafcutters too.  I think we focus a little much on the orchard masons.  We need to provide homes for the whole succession of bees from spring to fall! I did not even know there was a succession of bee types until I made the cob blocks!
Brian
 
Jordan Lowery
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great video, its a little quiet but thats ok. im going to make some of these today. where do you hang them?
 
Brian White
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The first cob blocks stayed on the wall where i left them to dry. (Because the bees found them before I decided where I would put them). I can move them in October.  I made a little shelf on a wood fence  facing westish for the one with little stems in it.  I need to be thinking beforehand. Next one, I plan to incorporate some sort of thick wire.  with a good bend at the bottom and a hook or loop of wire  at the top.  Then when the cob dries, I can just hang it anywhere. Brian
 
Jordan Lowery
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ok so i gathered a lot of materials i am planning on making some tomarrow when its hot out and work in the shade. when you hang them do they need cover from rain? do they need sunlight? do you think it would be a good idea to set them out now, let them fill up. then come spring set them in my forest garden under a small cover?

 
                    
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I love all the pic of Bees, flowers and bee shelters, thanks for sharing
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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soil wrote:do you think it would be a good idea to set them out now, let them fill up. then come spring set them in my forest garden under a small cover?


From what others have written, if there is a healthy succession, there might be no time to move them that isn't disruptive.

Maybe there's a place to put them which gets winter sun, but is still out of the rain?
 
Jordan Lowery
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well i made one today, its drying right now. sure is heavy lol.
 
                    
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So it seems mason bees do not make honey.
 
Brian White
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Dianne Keast wrote:
So it seems mason bees do not make honey.

No, I don't think so.  I guess they get pollen and nectar and make a big gob of goop with it.
Its a good question actually.  I wonder how they process their food so that it keeps or do the babies start growing at once and then rest dormant until spring?
There might not be any research on this if there is not commercial  benefits.
 
Lisa Paulson
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Thank you for the pictures of the bamboo bundles for the mason bees.  I am going to make a few bundles to try in different locations. 
 
Dave Hunter
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I'm glad to see all of the interest in raising mason bees.  It's vital in light of the current honeybee challenge north america faces today.

For an extensive, yet easy to navigate website on mason bees, go to http://www.crownbees.com. ; The site is primarily an education and instructional site that helps the backyard and commercial orchards succeed with using the spring mason bee.  (Blue Orchard bee)

There is only one native bee that makes honey; the bumblebee.  The honeybee is imported from Europe. 

Dave Hunter, Owner
Crown Bees
 
Brice Moss
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podcast 021 "Keen on Bees with Dave hunter is up"

http://www.richsoil.com/permaculture/201-podcast-021-keen-on-mason-bees-with-dave-hunter/

enjoy

and let me say thank you Dave for sharing with us the podcast and your website are bloody terrific.
 
Dave Hunter
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Thanks Brice, I'm honored.

It's a big message and will take a bit of proactive planning/teaming with many people across the country to achieve this goal of "ensuring we have food on our plates in ten years."

However, the cliche of starting each major endeavor with one step at a time is where I'm at.  Later, I'll hopefully have many people in step with me running their own piece at their own pace.

Dave
 
Brice Moss
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I was browsing your website and  loved the tray type house, but I like building things myself and am poor would you be open to publishing specifications for folks to build them at home?
 
Dave Hunter
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the trays are a bit tricky to put together correctly.  We have a friend mill the boards so that they line up nicely.  5/16" holes plus or minus is what you're looking for.  Depth, about 6".  Make sure that you have plenty of overhang (about 3" so that the boards stay dry.  You want to strap the boards together snugly to prevent pollen mites from taking over everything.

or build some straws from parchment paper around a pencil...  that's fairly cheap as well!
 
John Polk
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Nice site Dave.  I'm happy to see that people are looking at bees besides the honey bee. The orchard bee has a very short season, but is busy (as a bee) long before the honey bees show up.  This is important if you have early blooming fruit trees.

A good book is available (free) from Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE).
"How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee"
Go to this site, and look for the PDF link:

http://www.sare.org/Learning-Center/Books/How-to-Manage-the-Blue-Orchard-Bee

 
Dave Hunter
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That was my first significant read about 3 years ago.  This book answered many early questions.  I've been trying to help accellerate the learning of this bee.  A group of scientists, pollinators, orchard owners, and mason bee raisers met last December in Modesto to create a professional organization called Orchard Bee Association. 

Since we've formed, we have several teams looking into standards, methodology to raise them, developing the charter to the group, and means of sharing/exchanging ideas with the bee.

As new "technology" becomes available, I'l be modifying my website to pass these "tid-bits" along.

Gerald Bodily, a California physics teacher turned pollinator, has written a good book that explores many nuances beyond Bosche & Kemp's book.  (I have this on my website).  He's writing a few more shorter books this summer.  Most books written today are directed towards the backyard gardener learning about a cute insect.  I'm looking to help the orchardist/farmer out. 

However, we're only talking about the BOB (Blue Orchard Bee) because of the almond industry's acceptance of it as an "or equal" to the honey bee.  What lives around you that is later in the summer for the berry or melon season?  Who will help identify it and more importantly, partner with me to help others raise it, manage it, and get it into commercial fields?  I suggest these people will slowly emerge.  I am reaching out to state extension service scientists as the need arises.
 
Michael Radelut
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Hi there, and good to have you here !

I hardly know anything about bees, but looking at the approach you're taking I was wondering whether it might lead down the same path as the standard approach to keeping honeybees:

Round here quite a lot of people build "Insektenhotels", which are for wild bees, but for all sorts of other critters as well.
The standard recommendation by environmental groups is to never clean them.
When the bees move out or don't hatch, someone else will move in - some creature with its own very special diseases and parasites.

Your approach on the other hand isolates the bees (to achieve higher "stocking rates" and will inevitably lead to a buildup of parasites,
unless a human being regularly cleans them in one way or another.

How long, then, before the mason bees contract their own Varroa ?
It'll probably be something entirely different (maybe a fungus), but it may just have the same impact.

Cheers
 
John Polk
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Personally, I do not believe Varroa mite has anything to do with CCD.  My reasoning is:

With varoa, or any disease/virus, etc, you would find piles of sick/dead bees piled up outside the hive.  With CCD, you do not find this; just empty hives.  The bees fly off in the morning to go to work, and never come home.

They are getting intoxicated on the job (drinking too much Gaucho) and can't find their way home.
 
Dave Hunter
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hügel,

you pose a great argument that I've had many good conversations on.  

a) we need as many bees as possible to ensure that our orchards/crops achieve pollination (and we have diverse food)

b) let nature do it's own thing.  Nature will figure it out.

If you are a sheep herder, your flock will, by nature of being larger than normally allowed by nature, attract predators.  Diseases will also concentrate and spread between the sheep.  Your choices are to let the predators/diseases have their take and leave the strongest, or look to protect them.  If your purpose is to use the sheep for benefiting humans, (money, food, clothing) then you'll do all you can to defend/keep healthy your sheep.  

Bees:  If you're supplying holes for bees to use, you've already upset nature's balance.  Let the bees find natural holes to use.  If you choose to supply holes, at that point, you now have a bit of ownership.  ...an abnormal number of holes attracts bees and pests.  Nature WILL win out.  Those holes that you supplied will, over a period of 2-3 seasons, be overrun by pests and the holes will become bee cemeteries.  

I'm looking to supply an alternative to honey bees.  Will we accellerate bad pests that will kill off this insect?  Hopefully not, but I can't say that with certainty.  I can say that if we don't do anything, within this decade, we will probably find ourselves short of total pollination in our orchards/crops.  Who cares?  I do.  And I'm trying to help as many people understand this message: find out what's local around you, raise it, understand it, team with my company (http://www.crownbees.com) or other concerned people and get that bee into commercial use as fast as possible.

thanks for asking the questions hügel.  I know there may be better solutions in the world, but for now, this is one step that I'm able to actively take.  Not just "talk", but "talk AND walk".

Dave
 
Michael Radelut
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I certainly had no intention to play the advocatus diaboli, but would very much like to start from here,
and see if permaculture design can be helpful in modifying what you've already got going.

What is the long term result if you put in many different sizes of material ?
Is there a sequence of nesting insects, like a crop rotation ?
Can a straw be "cleaned" for a bee by another insect ?

What if you dispersed small(er) hotels on the acreage you've got ? Would that relieve the pressure ?
Would you be finding different species in different areas, with different neighbours and pests ?

Is there a hedge/compost heap/dry stone wall/brush pile equivalent for those bees - a large structure you can just set up to create a permanent environment ?
 
John Polk
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If I lure feral bees to my property (by providing 'food and lodging', I do not assume a 'bit of ownership'.  I do assume the responsibilities of stewardship (it's my 'fault' they came).  If I purchase a tube of bees, I might have a tiny bit of 'ownership'  Whether I purchase, or lure bees, I have assumed the responsibility of trying my best husbandry to provide a beneficial environment for my 'guests'.
 
Dave Hunter
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I'm up for the challenge, though we both have to realize that few commercial orchards/crops are ready for permaculture.  When one has thousands of hectares of apples, it is tough to change practices unless forced upon you.  (lack of honey bees for example.)

Small education.  In the bee world,
-30% are social and build hives in the air (honey bees, paper wasps, etc.)
-40% are ground dwellers and are social or solitary (bumble bees, miner bees)
-30% are cavity nesters and typically solitary (blue orchard, rufas, cornifrons, aglaia)

A cavity nester uses their hole for nesting.  They gather pollen, lay an egg, and then seal this egg chamber with mud/resin/leafs/masticated vegetation/pebbles.  The bee lives about 4-6 weeks before the season for this species to be complete. The egg hatches, the larva eats the pollen, spins a cocoon and metamorphosus into an adult bee.  The bee then emerges from that hole in time for the next season.  ...in other words, each hole is used for an entire year-long life cycle.

The mason bees that I'm using/encouraging are the Blue Orchard & Hornfaced that use 8mm holes plus or minus.  Another species that i'm encouraging for berries is Osmia aglaia that uses 5-6mm holes.  I haven't progressed enough to know quite yet which bee lives where and what their requirements are yet elsewhere in North America.

Your questions answered:
What is the long term result if you put in many different sizes of material ?
different sizes will attract different species at different times of the year.  ...if they are available.  

Is there a sequence of nesting insects, like a crop rotation ?
Each location/region is different, but yes, we have orchard/berry/melon season bees of various species.  Around the pacific northwest in the US, the spring bee is the blue orchard, followed by the aglaia, followed by "I don't know yet" for the melon (July/August) season.

Can a straw be "cleaned" for a bee by another insect ?  
No.  each bee has their own unique scent which the others ignore.  Each hole is used by one species for the entire year.  

What if you dispersed small(er) hotels on the acreage you've got ? Would that relieve the pressure ?
In a monoculter, or even 3-4 crop policulture, we are dispersing the shelters to a variable 20m spacing.  depending on the crop, we have maybe 100 nesting females per shelter.  In a natural environment, you might have 2-3 females/shelter, if that.
Realize that we have just 2-3 weeks of blossoms for this crop.  With thousands of trees, we need a mass of bees available all at one time.  When the crop is complete, this monoculture is a sahara desert to other native insects unless we encourage the farmer to plant/maintain hedges or between row plants.  At a cost in both labor and material to the farmer.  The honey bee is wonderful because the farmer just calls for bees to be dropped off and then picked up later.  
With cavity nesters like the blue orchard mason bee, we can pick up the straw with the eggs in it and take them off site so that other predators (parasitic wasps, woodpeckers, bears, etc.) can't forage on the bees.

Would you be finding different species in different areas, with different neighbours and pests ?
in an organic farm, potentially yes.  In a monoculture environment, few other species.  But yes, each species will have their own pests/diseases/virus that they're susceptable to.  Some pests/virus/diseases prey on multiple species.  though in general, the varoa mite doesn't impact the blue orchard as an example.

Is there a hedge/compost heap/dry stone wall/brush pile equivalent for those bees - a large structure you can just set up to create a permanent environment ?
this was a good Paul debate we had while sitting in my living room...  Monoculture is a practice that right or wrong, is the major practice across the world.  I know that in the UK, hedge rows are being forced(?) upon farmers as a good practice.  In north america, it will be like extremely tough to force/encourage.  Each farmer has only one set of equipment, ladders, sprayers, that they use.  For them to try to be competitive on their product, this is must.  It doesn't make it right, but in the free market society, it makes sense that it is what it is.
for a farmer to pull back 10-25% of their field to encourage native pollinators is a tough sell.  This land, in many situations, would be bare unless the farmer used energy to water it.  ...and as I type this, I know from Paul that there are better methods.  But limited farmer knowledge.

I don't mean to create obstacles with all of the above argument.  Rather, I am dealing with the food supply across north america with all sorts of farming practices.  This is reality, right or wrong.  It is this practice that for now, I have to work with.  If there are better methods of farming that permaculture can demonstrate, that must come from others...  I can't educate the world.  For now, my focus is obtaining alternate means of pollination.

John Polk... perhaps "stewardship" is a better word than "ownership."  In either case, if I alter nature's natural cycle by proving food/lodging, i should continue to support them if I benefit from their presence.
 
paul wheaton
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mike mclellan
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Reading about teasel stems to provide nesting "holes" has raised a question. Has anyone tried using giant sunflower stems hollowed out to different diameters to create nesting "holes"? I have a lot of sunflower stems that could be used for this purpose. It seems feasible but who knows. They'd probably last about as long as teasel stems. I know the pith seems like it would be easy to remove. Any experience using these or suggestions are most welcomed.
 
Miles Flansburg
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Mike, I was thinking of doing the same thing with sunchoke stems. Thought I would drill them out and hang them in a bunch from a tree limb.
I'm not sure if it would work either.
 
mike mclellan
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Thanks, Miles! It must've been all those years of Wyoming wind that stimulated such thinking in us both. I do know I've gotta keep the sunflower stems out of the weather so they don't decay before any bee has a chance to decide for itself if the offered sunflower hotel is suitable for nesting. Was thinking I'd bundle them in the same way and hang them in relatively protected areas near the gardens. I'm impressed your sunchoke stems are large enough to consider using. Mine did much better in year two just ended but still don't strike me as large enough diameter to use. Now I'll have to go check them more closely. I'll try to report if there's any bees using them in about seven months when I put them out.
 
paul wheaton
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Brand spanking new video about Mason Bees featuring Dave Hunter and Jen Davis.



 
Josh Pasholk
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I love how you ended it with the bee porn!

But seriously, I learned a freaking lot from that thanks! I like how much more they pollinate. Less bees, less chance of a sting.
 
Adam Moore
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Boom chica bow wow, I like that sorta thing
 
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