Monday, October 28, 2013

Mason Bee Cocoon Cleaning

     While I have been honey beekeeping for a number of years this year was my first attempt to raise native Blue Orchard Mason Bees in our garden.  Also known as Osmia Lignaria it is a major native pollinator in our area of the world.  They make nests in reeds or natural holes and utilize mud to space their cocoons.  This bee is a particularly important spring fruit tree pollinator for us.

     While there is an endless variety of homes that your can make for your mason bees and I encourage you to do so (Native Pollinators) the important thing is that the inner tube be accessible to clean and access the cocoons.  Without the ability to access and clean the nesting area it would soon become filled with debris, mites, diseases, wasps ... 

     These are the trays that I used this year which are easily seperated and cleaned but a good alterntive is simple paper straws that can be removed.  

Orange Rumped Bumble Bee
      I have identified a number of native and non native bees and wasps in our garden and my favourite and most prolific is the Orange Rumped Bumble Bee (Melanopygus) which pollinates our raspberries, blueberries and black locusts to name a few.  How can you not like a bee whose distinguishing feature is it's butt.  However, the population of Blue Orchard Mason bees is relatively low which is why I am raising them. 

     Above is a view of some of my harvested cocoons covered in mites and mite poop.  The cleaning process I initially employed was the sand method.

      The process is fairly simple mixing the sand with the cocoons and sifting through a screen.  This method is described below in the video by Hutchings Bees.

      I found that this method did not work for me completely and possibly it was because of the type of sand I used.  After the process the cocoons were still covered in debris.

     To finish the cleansing process I soaked the cocoons in a 5% solution of bleech and gently scrubbed with an old tooth brush.
   The finished product.
     I then put the cocoons in a paper bag enclosed in a plastic bag in the crisper section of the fridge.  Modern self defrosting fridges tend to be too dry so the crisper section is recommended.  The cocoons will be placed outside in their mason bee homes in early spring.

 P.S.  After a few years of keeping mason bees I have evolved to making my bee houses by simply drilling 3/8ths inch holes in 6 inch deep wood.  I use plain, unbleached brown paper from grocery bags rolled around a tent pole as liners which brings the finished diameter of the hole to the optimal 5/16th inch.  The rolled liners extend 1 inch out the back and are folded over with a back plate screwed on.  When harvest time comes I just unscrew the back plate and pull out the paper liners (Paper Liners That Work).  For more information on how to manage Mason Bees for your home or farm go to the Native Pollinators section of our Library and scroll down to Mason Bees.  If you are just starting out you can buy cocoons off Craigslist for 50 cents a cocoon and from some garden stores for $1 per cocoon.  Good sources of supplies and information are Crown Bees  and Beediverse.  Good luck.


  1. Great stuff :) Hope they do well next year.

  2. Thanks. I hope to make some more mason bee houses during the winter.


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