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I'm looking for to get some mason bees in my yard for this spring. I'd put a beehive there, but my neighbours are a bit nosey, so I need a lower-key bee. Can anybody recommend a supplier for up here in Canada?

Any advice/stories/etc. on breeding them would be helpful as well.

Thanks very much!

Josh
 

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In Canada you should contact Dr. Margriet Dogterom at: www.beediverse.com
She has bee tubes, books and nesting materials.

Mason bees are very easy to rear and propagate, are good early season pollinators and are a docile bee. I've reared them for several years and have never been stung by one. I sell them each year to people interested in their pollination service and to Universities for research. The mason bee's active season is very short, but they will provision nests and rear bees for next year quite well when conditions are right.

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I read Dr. Dogterom's book, very interesting! I know people frequently use straws (from cardboard, plastic, bamboo) and I'm wrestling with either making nesting trays (per her book) or going the tube route. Breaking the trays down at the end of season, harvesting the cocoons, and sanitizing seems pretty straightforward. I guess I'm of the opinion (at this point) that messing with tubes might damage the cocoons, plus using anything other than natural wood might not attract the bees as much.

I guess I just don't know the pros & cons, I'll check out her website, thanks for the tip.

Edit: Dr. Dogterom has a new edition of her book out (Oct '09) which can be purchased via her website. Looks like it has been expanded quite a bit.
 

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You might want to consider using Phragmites reeds for nesting tubes. Many people are cutting their own reeds and use them exclusively for mason bee propagation. I know several fruit growers that maintain huge populations of blue orchard bees in reeds. The reeds also work well for people with just a few trees in their backyards. Here's link to part of my website that discusses their advantages (note- I am not trying to sell anything here but rather provide information to the public):http://www.osmia.com/Nesting.htm.

Reeds are very easy (and quick) to open and the cocoons are safely removed with no problem. The chance of injury to cocoons is significantly greater with cardboard/paper straws as they are more flexible and easily compressed.

Although there are small populations of native Phragmites throughout North America, the large, fast-growing exotic populations provide the best tubes for bees. These invasive plants are found across the county in many wetland areas. You can produce several hundred bee tubes in an afternoon of cutting reeds.

Cardboard tubes, with or without liners, work well for mason bees but do have drawbacks. The bee larvae inside are more vulnerable to parasitic chalcids (Monodontomerus spp.) and paper tubes are somewhat less attractive to the bees than reeds or dried wood.

The best wood nesting blocks, either made from grooved layers or from drilling holes into solid wood, utilize aged wood and not fresh lumber. If you can smell sap and resins in the wood after drilling or routing then it should probably be air dried for about a year or so before the bees will readily accept it.

Dale
 

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Hi Dale, thanks, I'll check out your website.

I'm not sold on the cardboard tube idea just yet, so I am definitely weighing options. I have the benefit of bouncing questions off a few entomologists at work here. As far as the wood, I was considering sawing up wood rounds from bucked trees (I burn wood for heat). Since I definitely know the source (type, age, and most importantly reasonably assured wood is not treated with chemicals) I am more likely to use.

Thanks

p.s. getting a wood-burner like me to part with seasoned wood is tough :) - - but in the end worth the cause
 

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I have rolled my own tubes and taped them, just cut the tape to unroll. Works well but is a bit of work. You may even be able to slip a rolled up paper into a hole and just let it unwind. I use tubes in a nest block that breaks down, makes cleaning easier.
 

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An entomologist here at work recommended rolling coffee filters. He said the paper is great for moisture control (and thus all the nastiness that comes with excess moisture) and shouldn't degrade like paper.

To my surprise I found two local paper roll manufacturers, here's one link: http://www.custompapertubes.com/industrial/agricultural-tubes.htm

I'll probably end up trying a variety of things, including looking for the reeds Dale recommended in an earlier post.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks, that's a lot of good info. Anybody have any interesting nests out there? I want to build a my own (and I am definitely getting Dr. Dogterom's book). I'm thinking it's a lot like a birdhouse: you can go buy a generic one in the store, or you can get a bit creative and make it sort of feature in your garden or yard. I'll post a pic or two once I've built one.

Do the cocoons adhere to the tube walls (wood/paper/reed)? Is it a risk tearing them? Is there a preference between wood or paper in terms of whether you're producing a nest of bees for your own garden or 5,000 to sell?

Josh
 

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Regarding the questions asked by Josh, no, the bee cocoon's do not adhere to the walls of the nesting tubes. They are loose inside the tubes and are therefore easily removed. In some cases you will have extra large female cocoons that fill the tube and those need to be gently pried out. The pupal cases are fairly tough and tearing isn't a problem. I use spade tip forceps when removing the cocoons as they have no sharp points or edges. It's important to avoid excessing denting of the cocoons while handling them.

There is no preference between wood and paper nesting materials as far as marketing of the bees goes. Large quantities of bees are sold as loose cocoons, segregated males/females, and priced by the number of females only (the males are included at no charge, at the rate of approximately 1.5 males per female).

The Logan Bee Lab updated their website in the last week or two to include a section on harvesting and preparing reeds for bee nesting: http://www.ars.usda.gov/Services/docs.htm?docid=19236.

Dale
 

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I don't know if this would work in your climate but I take scrap pieces of 2x6 lumber and drill 1/4in holes in one side (using the '6in' length). I use a bit that will reach nearly the full length, without going completely through. I screw these scraps to a southern exposed, under the eaves side of my outbuildings. I put up new each winter and remove old when they appear to stop using it. In spring and summer I have a birdbath filled with gravel and keep water dripping into it. This gives my honey bees convenient, safe, fresh water. The overflow keeps the soil beneath moist....a convenient source for mason bees' masonary.
 

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Good idea on keeping a ready source of mud for the bees. We have three bird baths that we keep topped manually for birds & bees. Will look to improve with drip on one to additionally benefit whatever OMBs grace our yard. Thanks.
 

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I think beemandan didn't mean to say 1/4 inch, that's a bit small by most all accounts. I started with the 2x lumber pieces, but they become overrun with the pollen mites in my area. Far better to have the ability to to check and clean them. The reeds mentioned sound good if they are easily opened. I am also going to check my pampas grass and my smaller bamboo for ID. Last year I was so far behind the needs of my bees I was using anything I could find, even taping tubes to the side of my wooden nest block....the birds end up picking through the paper. I've also tried tubes inside a 2 Qt/L wax milk carton (intact), but the birds dragged them out and picked them open, so simple stacks of tubes need to be protected. Parasitic wasps will also chew through the sides of the tubes if given a chance. If money was no object I'd definately try the plastic blocks as they look easily cleaned, and long lasting, however using up scrap items saves money, and I suppose reduces and reuses.
 

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I think beemandan didn't mean to say 1/4 inch, that's a bit small by most all accounts.
Actually 1/4 in is what I drill. I originally got a 'store bought' nesting kit and measured the cardboard tubes. I just dug up some unused tubes and tried my bits again and 1/4 is pretty close. The mason bees nest in them. What size do you use?
 

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And looking a little further
They should be 4-8" deep (depending upon the size lumber used), smooth, and a 5/16" diameter hole is important. A smaller hole encourages higher production of male bees which reduces the reproductive potential of the population.
http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/ent/notes/Other/note109/note109.html
I'm not sure how much difference 1/16 inch makes, but next trip to the hardware store, I may need to look for an extended length 5/16 inch bit.
 

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The issue of the best hole size for nesting mason bees has been thoroughly studied. For Osmia lignaria, the best size is generally considered to be 5/16 inch in diameter. The difference of 1/16 inch in diameter is huge, given that a 5/16 inch hole is 56% larger than a 1/4 inch hole. The smaller holes cannot hold pollen loaves large enough to accommodate female bee larvae. The few females that are produced in 1/4 inch holes are significantly undersized and tend to be shorter-lived.

The Japanese horn-faced bee, Osmia cornifrons, which is found in some eastern states, Oregon, and Washington, will in fact use 1/4 inch tubes, although it is still a little on the small side for that bee as well.

Dale
 

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The difference of 1/16 inch in diameter is huge, given that a 5/16 inch hole is 56% larger than a 1/4 inch hole.
I don't doubt that the difference matters. But, if my old math serves me .25in is about 80% of .31in (about 20% difference). Where do you get 56%?
 

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In the comparison above I was referring to the size of the hole itself, not just the diameter. To calculate the size of the opening use the formula pi (3.14) x the radius squared. So for a 1/4 inch opening, we multiply pi x 1/8 (half the diameter) squared, which gives us 0.0491 sq. in. Using the same formula and 5/16 inch opening we get 0.0767 sq. in. The difference is 0.0276, which represents 56% of 0.0491, the size of the smaller hole.

On a larger scale, imagine 4 inch and 5 inch sprinkler pipe. The relative size comparison is exactly the same as it is for the mason bee holes that we are talking about, that is, 5 inch pipe is also 56% larger than 4 inch pipe. In this example the size disparities are also quite significant, especially if you're a farmer.

Dale
 
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