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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
As a home gardener who keeps mason bees for a hobby, I am always trying different types of houses/condos and systems every year, to see what kind of success I have and how the bees use the available housing.

This year I tried four types of houses and I wanted to share my harvest report and feedback about different designs. I'm curious what you've observed as well and would welcome comparisons and new ideas for next spring.

CONDITIONS
2010 was a very bad year for mason bees in the western US and Canada - record-breaking cold very late into the season. In Seattle, where I live, the weather was cold and stormy, and the bees didn't emerge until after most of the fruit trees were finished flowering. Still, my population increased.

SITE
House in the City of Seattle, in the pacific northwestern USA. The climate here is cool and maritime, the local landscape for the bees is small city yards and street trees.

PLACEMENT
All of these houses are mounted on the south side of the house, the sunniest location I have. They got sun from about 10am to 4pm, but on the south side, they were exposed to more wind and rain as well.

EMERGENCE
I started with cleaned loose cocoons - roughly 150 females and 200 males. The loose cocoons were placed in emergence drawers/trays/boxes. I released them in several "waves," but regardless most of them emerged in the same one-week period in April, after three straight days of temperatures above 60 degrees. Nest systems that had emergence boxes were immediately occupied. The one house I had that didn't have space for emergence was occupied last and only at the end of the season.



NEST SYSTEMS

#1 - Commercial system - BeeDiverse
Wood shelter with interlocking plastic trays. Bare plastic only, no liners.


#2 - Commercial system - Pollinator Paradise
Metal shelter with interlocking wood trays secured by bolts. Half lined with white pre-slit straws; half left bare.

#3 - Individual manufacturer - Pasquale G
Wood shelter, loose solid wood trays with drilled round holes. Holes lined with rolled brown paper + rubber stopper at back.


#4 - Individual manufacturer - Hutchings Bee Service
Wood shelter, individual solid wood trays with square channels OR open tray space. Each tray covered by clear plastic for viewing; very deep 12" tubes.


DATA

#1 BeeDiverse
Filled tubes: 29 out of 30
Females:46
Males: 60
Pollen mites: 12
Mold or chalkbrood: 4
Misc predators: 13
Total mortaility: 27.4%
Total bees harvested: 106


#2 Pollinator Paradise
Filled tubes: 64 out of 98
Females: 191
Males: 241
Pollen mites: 50
Mold or chalkbrood: 0
Misc predators: 29
Total mortaility: 18.3%
Total bees harvested: 432

#3 Pasquale G
Filled tubes: 35 of 35
Females: 90
Males: 124
Pollen mites: 15
Mold or chalkbrood: 0
Misc predators: 8
Total mortaility: 10.7%
Total bees harvested: 214

#4 Hutchings Bee Service
Filled tubes: 1 only
Females: 7
Males: 4
Pollen mites: 5
Mold or chalkbrood: 0
Misc predators: 8
Total mortaility: 45.5%
Total bees harvested: 11


DISPERSAL
I started with about 150 females, but only 50 stayed to next - a dispersal rate of 67%.

OVERALL REPRODUCTION
(after end-of-season cleaning)
On average, each nesting female filled 2.5 tubes and produced 15 cocoons. I started with 350 cocoons and ended up with 763 cocoons.


SYSTEM FEEDBACK

#1 BeeDiverse
This system is readily adopted by the bees and easy to clean and manage. It also consistently has the highest mortaility rates, year over year, and is the only system I ever see mold in. Its peaked roof allows for a variety of emergence containers - very handy.

#2 - Pollinator Paradise
I used a 50/50 mix of slit paper straws and bare wood tubes. The bees preferred the bare wood by almost 50% more. This system produced a high number of cocoons per tube. Mites were able to migrate between tubes due to the "interlocking tray" design, but I don't think it significantly impacted mortality. It is a pain in the neck to clean because all of the trays are adhered to a single backing. The slit paper straws were easy to open, and if all of the cocoons looked healthy I simply left the tube intact.

#3 - Pasquale G
The bees favorite design -- immediately occupied and actively used - several design features seemed to appeal more to the bees here than in other houses - slighly wider tubes, a perch for landing/sunning, and the tube liners that stuck out a bit from the wood trays--these appeared to be easier to seal with mud, and these had more solid, smooth mud caps than the other houses. Brown paper was more popular than white. Lowest mortaility of all systems. Easy to clean and good solid wood protection.


#4 - Hutchings Bee Service
HBS systems have a very unique design - individual loose trays are covered by thin plastic sheets, which allows you to gently pull out the trays and observe nesting progress - lots of fun for a hobby. I question if the plastic promoted higher humidity (and more pollen mites) but the weather made it difficult to judge. The 12" deep tubes produced a high number of females per tube. The condo was not immediately used by the bees - perhaps because it was the only system that didn't allow space for an emergence box. Next year I will "seed" it with some filled tubes and see if it is adopted sooner.


That's it. All followup reports, feedback, comments and suggestions welcome.
 

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Hi Seattleite,
Thats a wonderful amount of useful detail, thanks.

I have done a similar analysis of my bee habitats in France this year, although comparing my different home-made systems. I started with 400 bees (Osmia cornuta), although I wasn't sure of the exact number of females, and ended up with over 800. However due to my experiments I probably lost as many due to parasites (mites, Cacoxenous Indagator, small ichneumon flies and a bizarre new cocoon eating larvae) and some avoidable some humidity issues. Now I have learnt what I have, many of the losses can be avoided next year. (In 2008 my harvest was about 110)

I had short and long drill blocks, my two bee observation box designs, paper straws of different lengths and widths, reeds, hogweed and Japanese knotweed. I will provide/blog the results when I get a chance to analyse them.

Just a quick question - my females can come in all sizes, how can you be certain of your numbers? I assume these are Osmia lignaria? Are the differences very clear in these species.

...and speaking of species, do you have several or are these figures just for one?

...oh yes, and 'dispersal rate' how do you measure it?

Thanks again for the info - its really useful.
 

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I had short and long drill blocks, my two bee observation box designs, paper straws of different lengths and widths, reeds, hogweed and Japanese knotweed.
Can you please give me a few hints and tips for making the Japanese knotweed tubes? We have a LOT of this invasive plant growing along the roadsides in my town.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Hi SolitaryB, this data is for only one species, Osmia lignaria propinqua. I have set out trap nests for summer species to see what else might be in the area, but so far I haven't found any--just this one species.

The numbers on the M/F counts are a bit blurry. The females are larger than the males and easy to spot, so I count the number of large cocoons as females. All the rest that are much smaller I count as males. With this classification, it's possible that there are some smaller females mixed in with the males.

For dispersal rate, I measured two things: 1) How many females I started with and 2) How many stayed to lay eggs in the nest blocks. I hung the houses where it was easy for me to view them with a flashlight. Once a week, I went outside with a strong flashlight and examined the nesting holes to count how many females were active and how many tubes had been filled.

I counted for seven weeks from April 17th to June 1st.
Week 1: 51 Females
Week 2: 51
Week 3: 49
Week 4: 39
Week 5: 24
Week 6: 12
Week 7: 0

Not all the bees emerged at once..there were still a few emerging well into May. So most likely these numbers include some females dying off and being replaced by recently emerged females.

If 51 of 150 females stayed to nest...then that means 67% of them dispersed -- flew away, died, or otherwise abandoned the nest.
 

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Can you please give me a few hints and tips for making the Japanese knotweed tubes? We have a LOT of this invasive plant growing along the roadsides in my town.
Take a look at the ten minute 'road trip' video I made on harvesting it at the start of this year. Mason bee habitats: Japanese Knotweed. At the time of the video I hadn't identified it, but had already used it successfully the previous year.

People may think it's pesky, but in fact it turns out to be a great resource for people starting out because it doesn't take a lot of time to cut and set up, it is much more easily breakable (than bamboo) in Autumn for when you want to count and disinfect the tunnels and of course it is perfectly renewable / biodegradable and in plentiful supply.
 

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Take a look at the ten minute 'road trip' video I made on harvesting it at the start of this year. Mason bee habitats: Japanese Knotweed. At the time of the video I hadn't identified it, but had already used it successfully the previous year.

People may think it's pesky, but in fact it turns out to be a great resource for people starting out because it doesn't take a lot of time to cut and set up, it is much more easily breakable (than bamboo) in Autumn for when you want to count and disinfect the tunnels and of course it is perfectly renewable / biodegradable and in plentiful supply.
Be very careful using the knotweed. Don't let any part of the plant stay on the ground. If it gets started in your landscape you may never get rid of it. I fought that stuff forever along the rights of ways while working road maintenance. Mowing, digging, chemical, covering, or anything else controlled that stuff. That is why it is listed as a noxious weed.
 

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Thank you for that knotweed video.

Yes I would be very careful to not get it started in my yard.

That japanese knotweed grows by the ton along the roadsides not even a half mile from my house.
This summer I saw GAZILLIONS of honeybees all over it- wow they really went to town on that plant. I realize it is a 'bad' invasive species, but the bees sure love it!
 

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On my walk today I passed by the huge stands of Japanese knotweed alongside the road.
Thanks SolitaryB! I checked them out and now that they are dry and leafless for the winter, I saw how perfect they will be for gathering up as nesting tubes with varying inner dimensions. Perfect, and easy to cut. Your video was very helpful!
I will return on the next sunny calm day and cut bunches of sections, enough to fill several large empty cans for use as nesting boxes next Spring.
I'm looking forward to seeing who likes which ones! :D
I took some pictures of it when it was blooming this summer, since it was covered in THOUSANDS of honeybees!:


You can see four girls hard at work here:
 

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I went out today and harvested about 80 tubes of the Japanese knotweed in various diameters for use next year. It was easy and fun! I was able to cut them with a heavy kitchen scissors.
Kind of pleasant actually- it was 40F degrees and breezy but sunny, and the knotweed area was right next to a rushing stream, so i listened to the pleasant sound of babbling water as i gathered reeds. Felt rather medieval somehow!

Got a nice bagful, but they are wet so i've laid them out to dry for a few days before storing them for next Spring. All I'll need is 3 or 4 large coffee or juice cans, or a couple of simple wooden boxes to stack the reeds in and hang them up next Spring.
 

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Just thought I would post my cocoon numbers for 2010 as well. It was a bit of a dreary spring this side of the border too. Seems like a 2.5 fold increase is about what everyone here saw and my results were the same.

Started 2010 my second year of mason bees with 45 cocoons. Total cocoons harvested and in good shape for the 2011 spring is 110. For an increase of 2.44x, much lower than the 4.5x increase I saw in 2009. Hopefully the 2011 spring is much nicer, as I type this our crocus flowers are blooming. Which should mean only another month until the Cherry tree does and it will be time to put the bees out :)
 
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