In this Badge Bit you will clean and maintain a solitary bee house. This involves removing, collecting, and cleaning the mason bee cocoons and cleaning/replacing the nesting tubes. You will also prepare the clean cocoons for winter storage.
Wait, what? Why would I do that?
It is important to clean artificially (human) constructed solitary bee homes to prevent the spread of disease and remove parasites. If a diseased bee has left its comfy home in your man made house, the new tenant might pick-up what ever the last bee left behind! Concerns for mason bee health include pollen mites, parasitic chalcid wasps, and chalkbrood disease.
When to start?
- The time of year will depend on your local climate; typically this happens October through December when the mason bees are fully developed in their cocoon and are less likely to be damaged by the cleaning process.
You will need: - White paper towel
- Good lighting/Headlamp
- Razor blade/exacto knife
- Popsicle stick/chop stick/something to scoop out bees in cocoons
- 2 x Small wash basin/large plastic containers or bowls
- Oxygen bleach
- Room temperature water - Old tooth brush/scrub brush
- Spoon - Metal sieve
- Cardboard box/brown paper-towel
- Metal tin/yogurt container/glass jar with lid; with holes punch in the lid
Step by Step
Making the Wash Stations
Your will need 3 wash stations:
Remove Debris: A basin of cold to room temperature water
Disinfecting: 5% Solution of oxygen bleach at room temperature
Rinse: Tepid running water into bowl
Set aside nesting tubes/trays that have mud or debris at the end. These are most likely to have bees but you can check all the tubes to make sure you didn't miss any.
Opening the Nesting Tubes
- Gently unroll paper tubes
- Gently remove stackable trays
- Split open reeds: You can open reeds by using a razor blade to start splitting the tube at the tip and then twisting it to crack the length of the tube. You could also use a wedge to split the reed (so you don't accidentally cut the bee!)
Resources: How to Harvest Mason Bees from Natural Reed)
Scoop out Bees
Gently scoop out bees onto paper towel. The cocoons look like small, brown bundles.
- Place the cocoon into the first wash basin. Don't worry! They float and the waterproof coating protects the bees! Have them sit for 20 minutes, occasional gently agitating the water to dislodge and loosen the mud.
- DO NOT USE SOAP OR DETERGENT! This will kill the bees!
- Subsequent washing can be done to help remove mites: place cocoons in a metal sieve and agitate over a bowl with cold water gently running into it – allowing the mites to float away with the overflow.
Scoop the cocoons from first wash basin and place then in the second wash basin with the 5% Oxygen Bleach solution. Let them sit for 5-10 minutes, stir occasionally.
Remove cocoons from disinfecting wash and place on top of the sieve. Gently rinse cocoons for 5 minutes with tepid running water to remove the chlorine
Place washed cocoons on to white paper towel (this helps to spot any left over mites!) and let dry for 1 to 2 hours.
Optional Candling: Check cocoons for for parasitizing wasps using a flashlight in a dark room. Parasitized cocoons are crispy to touch and are lighter in colour or transparent when lit, these should be discarded.
Storing Cocoons for the Winter
Place the cocoons in a small cardboard box lined with paper towel or wrap them in brown paper towel. Then, place them in a plastic container, glass jar, or metal tin. Make sure there are holes punch in the lid! Place the container outside in a sheltered area or in an unheated garage/shed. The idea is to protect them from predators such as ants, squirrels, racoons, and woodpeckers.
Clean their House!
Soak the house/trays in warm water. Use an old tooth brush or scrubby and remove any mud or debris. Place the house and any trays in a mild bleach solution (15ml of household bleach in 4L of warm water) then rinse them throughly to remove any trace of chlorine. Let the house dry overnight and reinstall when throughly dried. Replace paper tubes and reeds with new ones if required for your style of mason bee house.
DON'T FORGET! You'll need to release the bees in the Spring! Set an alarm! Write a reminder! Join a local native bee keeping group! Release date depends on your area (Usually 3 weeks before things start blooming)
To complete this BB, the minimum requirements are: - Clean and harvest cocoons from at least one mason bee house
- Show the steps you took to harvest cocoons and clean the mason bee house
- Show you properly stored the clean cocoons and reinstalled the clean and ready mason bee house
To show you've completed this Badge Bit, you must: - Show the removal of the cocoons and inspection for parasites
- Show the initial washing, disinfecting, and rinsing of the cocoons
- Show the cleaning of the mason bee house
- Show the storage of the clean cocoons in an appropriate container and left in an appropriate location for the winter
- Show your clean mason bee home reinstalled and ready to go!
This BB can be documented using photographs or video (2 minutes or less).