Thanks to Linda Gilkeson for the following excerpt and photo!
A word (OK, a rant) about Blue Orchard Bees/Mason Bees: If you have a colony and haven’t cleaned the cocoons yet, do it right now as the first bees will be emerging any day (this year, vow to get the cleaning done in late fall). For bee nests, you may have read (darn that internet!) that all you need to do is drill holes in a block of wood and put it out. We now know that doing that is being the bee equivalent of a slum landlord. In the wild, mason bees are naturally solitary. Each female finds her own hollow reeds, woodpecker holes, etc. to make mud cells for her eggs. When she is lured into sharing a multi-unit apartment house, however, there is a high risk of parasites building up in crowded conditions if the nests are not cleaned between uses.
If we provide nests, they must to be designed so cocoons can be removed and cleaned properly. A colony can be so badly infested that many bees die in their cocoons; I have seen bees emerging with such high loads of mites they can’t fly. Sadly, they just end up crawling around on the ground. Bees with lighter loads of mites leave mites behind on flowers to infect other bees. If you are not prepared to use disposable nest materials and clean the cocoons properly, then it would be better for the wild bees in your neighborhood if you don’t lure them into bee houses. There are other very valuable ways to help out the bees in this world by providing bee forage and wild, weedy areas for food sources all season. And do take down any old nest boxes and get rid of them if they can’t be cleaned.
There are lots of options for cleanable or disposable bee nests from making your own paper straws (free) to purchasing cardboard tubes or split nest boxes that can be opened for cleaning. Lots more on bee life cycles, managing nest boxes and what to do now if you have un-cleanable nest blocks with bees in them (they can be salvaged), in an article I wrote last year for Transition Salt Spring.
Read Linda’s full article at: