Mason bee systems - different styles, good and bad

magala(8)March 9, 2010

Hi folks,

I have been trying out several houses for two years, and Im finding that thereÂs are many different systems. Some work well and some don't. I consider my bees a fun garden project, and keeping them appeals to the "fun science experiment" side of me. So before I choose houses and set them out for the spring, I seek your advice.

Mason bee system designs

1. Drilled wood blocks  bare wood only

2. Drilled wood blocks with liners or tube inserts

3. Cardboard tubes in an open container (plastic pipe, can, cardboard cylinder, etc.)

4. Stacking trays  plastic (or corn-based material)

5. Stacking trays  bare wood only

6. Removable whole plastic blocks

7. Natural reeds in some sort of holder

Tubes and liners

1. Manufactured paper tubes (thin paper)

2. Heavy card board tubes (difficult to bend in half)

3. Hand- rolled paper

4. Natural reeds

Which of these systems did you find very successful, and which ones caused significant problems?

"Success" can be interpreted a number of waysÂtotal population growth, mortality, problems with parasites, the resulting M:F ratio, etc.

(There is another thread on this on the board, but itÂs now several years old so IÂm starting a new one.)

What have you learned?

(Mason bee house, mason bee condo, mason bee nest, mason bee hive, orchard bees, whatever you call them; I think they're fun) :-)

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1. Drilled wood blocks bare wood only
This is a trap, can't extract cocoons for cleaning, mites build up, high mortality which blocks, infest, other bees on their way out the channel. Other multivoltine species of bees which take more than one year to metamorphosize, could be harmed if drilled out.

2. Drilled wood blocks with liners or tube inserts
Better for sure, but I've found that paper in wet years, absorb moisture and combine that with dark, and sugary pollen and you get mould.

3. Cardboard tubes in an open container (plastic pipe, can, cardboard cylinder, etc.)
Same deal with paper absorbing moisture, but more importantly, Monodontomerus wasps parasitoid can chew through the paper. Also, any space between the tubes can accommodate other beneficial bees and wasps and fill in those gaps.

4. Stacking trays plastic (or corn-based material)
Better still, but plastic doesn't breath. Trays have to have absolutely no gaps between them as once again, parasitoid wasps can wedge their way through directly into the eggs and/or larvae and oviposit their eggs.

5. Stacking trays bare wood only
Same as above but make sure to have a lid on top of each tray and tape the edges. I use see-through plastic to document what's going on inside. This is on Youtube if you put in "How To Clean Orchard Mason Bees Using Sand". Check it out.

6. Removable whole plastic blocks
Plastic is never good for mould build-up potential is wet years. Also, heat transfer. Developing bees within can't "breath".

7. Natural reeds in some sort of holder
Can't open up easily for proper cocoon extraction and cleaning. Tubes are never good that can't be opened. THis is nature's way but of course, like an unattended garden, your brood will eventually crash with the mite build-up.

Tubes and liners
1. Manufactured paper tubes (thin paper)
Parasitoid wasps can chew through, gaps between tubes house other beneficial pollinators and predatory wasps (caterpillar and spider - consuming species).

2. Heavy card board tubes (difficult to bend in half)
Better, but watch moisture and make sure you can open easily without crushing/damaging cocoons when it comes to cleaning.

3. Hand- rolled paper
Moisture absorbers for sure. Remember when we were kids and got wet boots and our mothers told us to put in scrunched up newspaper to dry out enough for the next day? Same thing.

4. Natural reeds
Same as reeds above.

So, in all these systems, I prefer to look at utilising stackable trays with clear cover taped along all edges. Shape has to be either half round or square dato'd but the latter is easier for production with a table saw rather than a router. Square does require more trips for mud, but that's the trade off for building time.
Length of channel is the more important question. In my research, I discovered that 29.5cm (~11") was the most efficient length at producing females, which is what I wanted for pollination. Torchio says 6" as the rest of the length wouldn't get utilised, but I found this not accurate and maybe we have different mentality of bees here in southern Canada.
Hope that helps, and check out my youtube video and post more comments there if you want.
p.s. Around these parts, we refer to the domatia as "condo" rather than house. Afterall, the solitary bees coming to a shared domatia is rather like a condominium.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2010 at 2:51PM
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I too have tryed every system above!
I can not agree with your teaching, that the wood staking trays are best over all design to raise mason bee, you forgot to mention several important things: How many cocoons are lost to the parasitic wasps? What is the level of mites infestation in using these types of trays when the mites can freely roam from one channel to another? And again how hard do you have to scrape to get them clean again? How many bees are dispersed after 2 3 years because those trays are contaminated with mould and dirt like a cutting board. This could be one of the problems that your bees are flying away.

By far the best system is the 6" drilled wood trays that I perfected with a non-glued paper liners and a reusable silicone plugs to seal the back. This system eliminates all the problems stated above. No parasitic wasps, a lot less mites, no scraping, washing and drying and no bolting or taping are required, the trays will remain as new for many years. Also the round holes design will have an advantage over the square or the grooved cut, with less mud required to seal the partition.

The bees love this system so are the peoples that have try them, living close to Vancouver, the moisture is very high, yet my liners been made of good quality craft paper stand-up very well, with no mould to speak of. To roll the paper liners will take some time, but by starting new every year you are assured of a healthy colony ready to work for you, and than as one of my customer reported: I had rather roll-up liners any time instead of scraping those blocks! If you would like to see one of my trays just let me know.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2010 at 9:10PM
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I have to agree. I'm switching to 60lb craft paper rolled tube inserts in solid wood blocks to attempt at minimizing mite infestations.
I watched the You Tube video mentioned above and as I expected, seems to be problems with mites being able to navigate between the fine cracks in the locking wood trays, infecting high numbers of cells in the trays. I'm tired of washing and disinfecting trays also, when not using paper rolled tube inserts.

Using sand is interesting to remove the mites, but I also would mention that I think using the Dogterom bleach solution method is much more effective in removing mites. I've never had mold problems. Simply follow the instructions and make sure the cocoons are dried. I think it's misleading to imply that the bleach kills the mites, rather, simply does a better job at removing the mites from the cocoons, similar to what the sand is doing. I might give the sand a try myself. Thanks for the information.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 12:35PM
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The sand or the bleach method to rid the cocoons of mites, help only to minimize the problem, they look clean to the naked eye; but if you look throw a good magnifying glass or a scope you will notice the mites are still there, well and alive. At the rate they reproduce only one mite will contaminate the whole tray.

Finally! There is something new available for the purpose, this is the real stuff! it took me ten years to develop. If use according to instruction it will work 100% without harming the bees. Go to "" look under accessory.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 1:48PM
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gyozu(7 Winston-Salem, NC)

For what it is worth, I am starting my 3rd year with a drilled wood block and paper tube assembly. First year I ran 2 blocks with 24 tubes each and filled about 12 tubes [went out late]. Got about 100 cocoons with a about 6 lost to parasitic wasps. Next year I used the same blocks with a mix of parchment paper and brown grocery bag tubes. All 48 tubes were filled and bees were still looking for nests. Got anywhere from 6 to 12 cocoons per tube and lost about 8 cocoons to parasitic wasps. Got a total of 408 cocoons. This year I am adding 4 more 24 hole blocks to the hive, all with brown grocery bag tubes. I find the quickest way to roll a tube is to use a heavy duty round file a little smaller than the hole. Cut a bunch of sheets on the paper cutter and go to town. I am still not decided as to whether parchment paper or grocery bags are better. Bees seem to use both, both papers will krinkle if not moisture "seasoned" before putting out and I am not sure if dark or light tube color affects the drawing power.

It is a simple, easy and cheap way to make a nesting block
Blocks were overwintered on a screen porch.
Links go to some picture related to this post.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2010 at 11:24PM
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In response to Pasquale G (Ilovebee) not agreeing:

Parasitic wasps (Monodontomerus and not the Ichneumonids), are not able to go past plastic covers which are taped on top of stacked tray system condos, along edges. Yes, mites can enter what as can wasps for that matter, but that's the same way in any system, via the main entrance or the mites can be introduced phoretically as this has nothing to do with whichever type of condo system is utilised.

Scraping out cocoons is not a problem but in my youtube video about using sand for cleaning, at one point I was using a flat-bladed scraper accidently on a routered, round-bottomed channel by mistake. Mould does not enter in a dry environment, only wet so cleaning the trays out and having fully dry for next year is never an issue.

I do agree about the square vs. round hole, but the emphasis was on ease of manufacturing so people can do themselves and not be dependent on commercial sellers. Routering a half-round is a compromise. Round, you can't see, and of course the cross-sectional area is the most efficient but then my emphasis is on maximazing bees with an educational viewing of the bees. That's why for my own personal boxes, I prefer 30cm lengths since this is what my UVic research findings were to maximize females per length of channel.

So, to summarize, you prefer rolling paper, bleach (chlorine) and putting your cocoons out to dry, whilst I prefer taping the edges of educational, peek-a-boo covers, and using sand with absolute assurance of complete mite removal. I don't believe any of us should comment on methods we havent used. And I want to support methods with a focus to decrease the mite population and not require people to pay for my research, classes or publications. I am not trying to profit from this.

On the bleach subject, method which if named should be called the "Rex Welland Method", as he pioneered this, the long term science does not support this method for maximum mite reduction.

And I just want to say, its great that these discussions and forums are happening, with private individuals discussing their research and not just directing folks to buy this or that from some business. I'm just an entomologist interested in spreading the word for all to have access to improving pollination. If only we could collectively look at habitat loss for all the other ground-nesting species now...

    Bookmark   March 20, 2010 at 2:16AM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA


I just received a Mason Bee H*ouse linked below. It is my first attempt at providing shelter for Mason Bees. I don't even know if I have mason bees in my area. I found this thread very interesting to read. Since I already have this h*ouse that appears to have bam*boo tubes inside a holder, I am going to give it a try. I do understand there is a mite problem and I gather that you all are cleaning out the tubes annually, to clean out the mites, is that right? Since the bam*boo tubes on my h*ouse cannot be opened, I assume it would not be possible to clean them out? Do you clean them out after the bees have left before another season starts?

So, I could improve upon my h*ouse, by rolling tubes of paper bags and inserting them into the tubes the way gyozu has?

I am also wanting to get mine hung outside. I have two problems that are obstacles. One I've read they should be under an overhang to protect from weather and I don't have an overhang, except the gutter on a small cape that has vinyl siding. Second, I'm still not sure where to place it. I have a stockade fen*ce and could attach it to a post that is 6ft high. Or I could hang it from a tree branch about 15ft off the ground, both facing South with some afternoon shade. Also this commercial h*ouse I was given, has a hoop to hang it. I wondered if I hang it on a tree branch, will the movement from wind disturb the bees?

Would appreciate any input you can give me. Or should I start my own thread?


    Bookmark   March 22, 2010 at 7:37AM
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Dear Prairie Moon 2,
With the bamboo tubes, you cannot open up for cleaning, at least without cutting extremely carefully. Like a garden without weeding, the mites will eventually take over, plus, any bees further into the tube that has to struggle past its siblings in front of it that were killed by mites, not have to struggle out. This is not unlike what goes on in nature, but we can provide a helping hand by extraction and cleaning. Some here use bleach/chlorine, whereas I prefer sand method we invented, and we know our cocoons are completely mite-free having done this for years now. Your tubes will be essentially like drilling a series of holes into a block of wood - very archaic method and really involves no bee-husbandry. This I call a "trap".
Now, depending upon the width of your tubes, you might get away with a paper tube inside your now bamboo tubes. However, if you go down to too small a diametre, you will be promoting male bees mainly. The egg-laying, adult female mother will sense this and not physically enseminate the eggs and essentially laying males. This has been proven since the days of Karl Krombein in the 1950's for those of us who are scientist/biologist and not just gardeners.
Hanging your house doesn't really work for Osmia lignaria propinqua, but then I don't know where you are. Around here on Vancouver Island, Canada, temperature fluctuations, swinging in the wind etc. are very much a deterrent for bees to take up your abode. Against a south-facing wall is best, but beware of leaving your bees out in the worst heat of the day which can cook your developing larvae brood, which is why I like a bit of a shaded cover on this nice warm wall.
Unfortunately, your tubes are like some of the fancy fishing lures, they grabbed your attention more than the bees.
There will be those that suggest you set out, collect some bees, wait until they're all out next year, then drill out when they're all out! How can you tell when they're all out, or how about other multivoltine species of bees that have also taken up residence in your tubes? These are things you can't tell as you can't see what's going on inside.
There are some on here that are proprietors of their own commercial ventures so they will show their bias towards their "system". I prefer slotted channels with clear covers, either individual or one piece covering each tray of channels. For a sample, you can go to Youtube and put in "How To Clean Orchard Mason Bees" and you'll see in the first part video, some examples of what I use. Try and copy these and make yourself. Email me directly if you want plans too. The rest of the video is about cleaning obviously, but you'll see an example of the condo types, plus maybe the lightbulb will go on a bit for you and you'll understand the biology of this and other, beneficial bee(s).
Here's a link to an article that came out here yesterday. Read through it and maybe you'll glean some useful info from this too.

    Bookmark   March 22, 2010 at 8:57PM
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Prairie Moon 2:

Some of us (me included) get really into the best methods for raising the maximum number of healthy bees. The fact of the matter is that bees will nest in a wide variety of houses--- each will give you a different rate of population growth, parasite issues, and survival rates.

With the b*amboo reeds, you have to manage the population by whole tubes, because you can't get in there and get the bees cocoons out at the end of the season.

If you want to use that house for this year, go for it. Next year, get a different type of house (plenty on that in this thread.) What you'll need to do is take the whole tubes that you have saved over the winter, still sealed up with mud, and put them in a smallish box with a hole cut out at the top. The bees will hatch out of the tubes just like they do in nature, see the light, fly out of the box through the hole, and then start looking for a place to nest...which is where your n*ew house comes into play.

For this year I wouldn't bother with paper straws, because the b*amboo diameters are so variable that the straws would probably would only fit a couple of them. Straws work for machine-made holes best.

The reeds will work OK, it's just not a great setup for many reasons. If you like experiements, then you could get another type of inexpensive house, install it next to the reeds one, and compare the results at the end of the season. Then you'll have lots of opinions to bring back here ;-)

    Bookmark   March 22, 2010 at 10:10PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

Hi Mr Hutchings,
I'm in Massachusetts here on the East coast. Yes, I can see where it would be difficult to cut open the bam*boo tubes. They are pretty thick and inflexible. Plus they would be disposable then too. I will have to take a good look at the tubes and measure them to see if I could get paper into them. I guess a different h*ouse would have been better. I wonder where I can buy the correct h*ouse? I am not able to build one myself.

So, if I attracted only male bees, and they are not laying eggs, are they just wintering over in the tubes and will come out again in the spring?

When you talk about wanting a South wall with a little bit of shaded cover, do you mean an overhanging branch, or afternoon shade, or an actual piece of wood erected like an overhang over the h*ouse itself?

Good article...thanks.

That sounds like a good idea to use my h*ouse this year and to start fresh with a new h*ouse next year. And yes I do like an experiment, so placing them side by side next season does sound like an interesting one.

Again, if anyone has information about where to buy the right h*ouses, I'm on the lookout. Thanks


    Bookmark   March 23, 2010 at 4:07AM
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Well Prairiemoon, Magala pretty much said what I was afraid to tell you - to get a better design. Usually when I'm blunt to folks about this, they get offended but it's the truth. I recommend some sort of a box, but I have used a black garbage bucket with a small hole near the bottom. I keep the old block (or tubes) to demonstrate in my classes why NOT to use them when done. I suggested cutting open if you can't do the method as described but don't recommend it. Bamboo can split after slicing part way but it still would be tough.
I don't want to push my stuff that I sell because you could probably purchase one somewhere nearer where you live. I do ship occasionally when pressed but only if people really can't make their own or buy locally. Like I said, check out the youtube video for ideas. Also, I'll attach a link below with a little article I wrote a couple of years ago showing a sample of a design tray.
Not clear what you mean about timing of males, but I was saying that if you go to too small a hole, say 5-6mm (~1/4"), Osmia lignaria females will be proned to laying males at a much higher percentage due to constriction of sperm being "added" to the egg when they lay (trying to keep the language non-scientific but it's in Karl V. Krombein, 1967). The males emerge first in Spring (right now), inseminate/fertilise/mate with the females, then pretty much die off, leaving the females to do the pollinating and providing for the next year's brood. Her brood will have a higher ratio of females progeny if one goes to a 7mm or 5/16" hole diametre and from my research, a channel length of about 11 1/2". This is different than what Torchio and Tepedino wrote about in their research (Utah) but that's what I came up with for two years running. Unfortunately, I never submitted my paper to a peer-reviewed journal after producing but am still considering it even though it's getting old by scientific submitting standards. I'm conducting the experiment again this year and have my apparati set up at a few orchards and yards in my city.
South wall is best but if it is in a location that is prone to extreme heat, or if one is to leave their condos up on the wall throughout the rest of the summer, the interior can become quite hot and cook your larvae within. Which is why I prefer (and sell) the Peek-a-Boo covers on the trays so I can see when the bees are finished in each channel. Of course, the very exterior of each channel should have an end cap after the vestibular cell, but often bees vacate and don't finish, probably due to death or disturbance from earwigs, ants etc., that's why I like to see for myself. So, if you have this very hot condition, why not add a little shade panel on this wall (wish I had a photo to explain better), and help out your bees with that? The wall gets the heat that the bees are drawn too, but you have a bit of a controlled micro-environment on this wall to prevent the over-heating.
Hope that helps.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 2:02AM
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Hello every one,

The last few days I have been very busy to put the finishing touches on one of the most beautiful Mason bee condo you ever see, it will be put in place next week at my city inspiration garden; it took my son and I close to 150 hours to build it, every one that have seen it say it is a Masterpiece. I hope to be able to post it on the garden web as soon it is up on the kiosk. You see: I am only a gardener but thanks to my skill I am able to give my bee what is best for them, and not what is more expedient. Since Mason bees cannot defend them shelf from predators it hurt me to see some method of bee keeping were the bees are left to all kind of parasitism. Since young age I love bees, honeybees and mason bees alike, now on the twilight years it is my hobby, I sale a few houses, I give way a few houses, nothing more. My reward is mostly the feed back from people telling me that my system is the best they ever seen.

Hi Prairiermoon2,
If you are still looking for a Mason bee house; allowed me to send you one mine (free) you would pay only the shipping.


    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 1:08PM
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As someone who can review both, both ilovebee's and Gord Hutchings' houses are exceptionally well designed for bee health, parasite protection, and ideal population growth.

Ilovebee's have an edge in easier owner maintenance and beautiful craftsmanship, and Gord's have a truly groundbreaking techncial design that will support research curiosity.

Both of them will certainly yield superior results compared to anything else you can buy commercially, and I've tried ten types of houses. High praise to them both; they raise the bar for the hobby.

    Bookmark   March 24, 2010 at 2:12PM
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This mason bee condo styled like a Roman building was donated to the City of Coquitlam "Inspiration Garden" There are a total of 66 solid wood trays, app. half cedar and half pine for special effect, all 326 holes are drilled 6" deep, and to facilitate the cleaning a brown non glued paper liner has been inserted. I have released 500 bees, 50/50 Male and Female.

I hope that you all like-it.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2010 at 11:37PM
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I might as well throw my two cents in here. I've been using bamboo sections with great success. The diameters are all 5/16 since I drilled them out myself after selecting poles that were very close to that diameter. Their durability has been very good. Of course, you have to bother with the bees trying to re-enter after hatching and you have to clean them too. Cleaning I do with a stiff metal wire pushed thru and then a 1/4" dowel pushed thru several times. Then I don't use those same bamboo tubes for another year, hopefully starving out the mites, but I don't really know. I bring the bees inside in early June, hopefully avoiding parasitic wasps, but if a few get in, it's no big deal. Hey, those wasps gotta live to ya know! Using this system gives me way more bees than I know what to do with. If the bees have to struggle to get out in Spring, so be it, that is their way. If I was trying to maximize bee production I would think differently, but like I said, I have way too many as it is. Even after donating hundreds of straws to our local Home Orchard Society.
I like the bamboo straws for their natural and rustic characteristics. Your mileage may vary, particularly if your in the business of maximizing bee production for some reason. And actually this year I'm trying the stacked, dado'ed pine boards just for variety. The bees seem to like them quite well although the boards tend to warp outside, even completely out of the rain, so I've added a wire wrapped around the outside. Not sure how that will work out.
Here's a picture of a mix of bamboo and cardboard, doubled-up tubes. The tubes I donate away and the bamboo ones I keep for the next season.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2010 at 4:05PM
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With regard to making your own tubes out of paper...what do you mean when you refer to moisture "seasoning" to prevent the paper from curling? I'm interested to learn more.

My two cents on brown vs white tubes...they have a very strong preference for brown. They'll certainly nest in white, but in my experience they choose brown first.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 1:16AM
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gyozu(7 Winston-Salem, NC)

By moisture "seasoning" I mean that I roll and insert the tubes into the blocks. Then place the blocks outside (on the screen porch) for several weeks without having screwed down the back plate and crimping(locking down) the paper tubes. This seems to allow the paper in the tubes to move and adjust to the outside humidity. When I assembled it and placed it outdoors without seasoning the tube all started wrinkling up at the mouth of the tube. Sort of like letting wood flooring acclimate before installing.

Tube material: I had about 108 tubes done in brown grocery bag and all of them filled up. I had also put out two more blocks (48 tubes) with parchment paper tubes on the front of the house. That also filled up. I think either will work fine. I tend to agree with you that the brown paper is more attractive since it makes a darker looking hole, which may seem more "natural". I do like the parchment paper for one reason. It comes out of the block with less force than the brown paper. I attribute this to it being smoother. Anyway, should have over a 1000 cocoons next year! They love my Blueberry plants.

A couple of other things I want to try next year are scorching the front of the block with a torch to change the color and texture of the cut wood surface and to mark the front of the block to give the bees a visual clue as to where their tube is. Not sure either of these is worthwhile, but the urge to tinker is always there.

    Bookmark   April 29, 2010 at 10:47PM
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I live near Philadelphia, PA and have only been keeping Osmia (both lignaria and cornifrons) for 4 Springs. I started with a drilled block from Knox Cellars and then read about lining the holes with Parchment Paper (the baking type) on a website so did that my first year. My bees came in 6" cardboard tubes which I rubber banded to the bottom of the block and that first year, they not only filled the holes in the block but started to refill the shipping tubes.

2nd year I did some more research and found a website recommending using reeds (Phragmites australis) as disposable nest tubes. Since they grow alongside many roads in my area and are considered "invasive weeds", I harvested some, cut them into approximately 6" lengths and stuffed them into a 1/2 gallon plastic jug with the top cut off and fashioned wires to hang it from my rain gutter conveniently located outside a 2nd story window. I ordered some of Knox Cellars homes for wet areas which included cardboard tubes coated with mylar. I also watched Margaret Dogterom's video "All About Mason Bees" and used the bleach method to clean the cocoons of mites and hopefully molds - also inspected them using a lantern. Again, they filled every tube I put out showing little favoritism.

3rd year I also bought some laminated wood homes sold by Karen Strickler with paper inserts - some split and some not split. Every year so far, the bees have filled everything I have provided for them.

This (4th) year, I had so many bees that even with two of the 98 hole laminated homes with paper inserts filled twice, two 1/2 gal jugs filled with reeds and coated paper tubes and the Knox Cellars block filled twice they filled almost everything and I am in "Suburbia"!

This year for the first time, I encountered mold (mildew) but it was only on the paper tubes I removed from the laminated wood homes - not the rolled Parchment Paper or the cardboard tubes (either coated or uncoated). My bees also were "finished" by Mother's Day instead of Memorial Day as in previous years. All "homes" were stored inside my home (in my kitchen) to keep them away from various predators. Usually after the predators are dead, they are moved to my unheated garage so they get their cold spell and then cleaned in late Winter and stored in the Hydrator drawer of my refrigerator.

My experience has shown the bees in my area seem to show no preference but I do (at least so far).

1st choice is the Phragmites reeds because they split easily, are only used once and are VERY inexpensive - only cost the labor to harvest and prepare them.

2nd choice are the split paper tubes in the laminated homes but I need to find a better way to store them since removed from the laminate, they are unprotected and the nectar which seeps through the paper seems to be an ideal medium to grow molds.

3rd choice is the Knox Cellars with rolled Parchment Paper as an insert - the drawback there is if you get a good Spring downpour and the paper gets wet, it wrinkles. The bees chew off the wrinkles but it is a bit messy. The shorter tunnel depth makes them more labor intensive than others to get the same number of bees in return.

I have no connection with any of the above mentioned businesses except as a consumer. I will have to try some of the products recommended by others on this list and see how they compare. Many thanks for bearing with a long post and also for the additional information about more types of "homes".

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 2:21PM
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I love this thread.

Tcannard, thank you for posting about your experience with different houses. I find reviews like yorus very useful for refining my method and my choice of houses/condos.

I think I have been confusing bamboo tubes (hard) with reeds, as I've never seen reeds before. I thought they were impossible to open and therefore more risky in terms of mite build up.

This book has a very detailed comparison of different mason bee systems, and is well worth buying for hobbyists:

My interpretation of the comparison chart is that solid blocks with liners are best for bee husbandry due to far better control over cocoon quality, but variable-length reeds are more preferred by bees. Additionally, these folks found that reeds yielded the most females of all systems.

There are tons of other options to consider--we all have a hobby after all, but next year I think I will try some reeds too.

Tcannard: How many cocoons are you starting the season with, to see such healthy population growth? I'm interested in hearing more about your starting/nesting/harvesting metrics, if you have them.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 3:55PM
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Reeds can be seen in use here:

They are hard and segmented exactly like bamboo's except Phragmites have leaves growing at almost every "node" and have a more "porus skin" whereas most bamboos I've seen have a "glossy skin". Reeds and bamboo are both impossible to reuse (at least in my experience) so are best harvested new each year. There are MANY different kinds of reeds as are there many different kinds of bamboo. I only chose Phragmites because they were readily available at almost no cost (in my area) so I consider them "disposable" - see:

A picture (which will be available for 99 days because it is on my PC) of my setup to show the hooks on the gutter is here:

Here is an example of one of my Phragmites reed split open:

Infortunately I have not counted my "seed" cocoons each year - nor have I kept track of how many of each Osmia species I have released. Here is a picture of the bag of cocoons I released this year:

The laminated box to the right measures 5 1/2 inches outside edge to outside edge and it is sitting on a ceramic stove top (if you zoom in you can see the circle) where the circle is 8 3/4 inches in diameter and the box to the left is a "Summer Mason Bee" box which measures 5 inches outside edge to outside edge.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2010 at 6:29PM
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Tcannard I too love the reviews of your mason bee keeping, could you explain what you mean by filling twice? Are you removing the sealed tube and replace it with a new one?

Is it possible that your bees were finished by Mothers day because you houses were all filled-up? Would they have dispersed to search for new nesting holes? For my bees I allowed 50 nesting tubes 6" deep for each 100 seeding cocoons. One cup (250 ml) is equal to 500+ Cocoons

    Bookmark   June 4, 2010 at 2:26AM
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By filling twice I mean I removed the sealed tubes and refilled with empties. It is very easy to do on the laminated ones (BinderBoard) and only a little more difficult on the drilled blocks from Knox Cellars because I have to carefully pull the filled ones out, cut parchment paper, roll it up and stuff it into the holes. With the Phragmite Reeds, I removed the filled ones and put more empties out. I still had some unfilled holes by Mother's day but there were no more bees flying around. It is possible they moved on but I didn't think they usually did that when homes were available - maybe they ran out of nectar sources so looked elsewhere.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 5:20PM
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What you are saying is very interesting! Is this the first year you removed the sealed tubes and replaced them with a new one? Or have you done-it other years. Are you carefully marking the top position of each tube so that the same position is maintained? According to many experts this would be a no-no unless it is done with grate care, not to dislodge the egg from the pollen provision.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2010 at 11:25PM
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The past three seasons I have had to remove filled reeds, cardboard tubes with paper liners or rolled parchment paper from holes in order to make room for more empty homes. I did not mark the "top" of any when I did this and last year even managed to drop 2 full reeds from the 2nd story. I carefully marked the ones I dropped and in the winter when I cleaned them found that every cell was filled with a cocoon - just like most of the others which I did not drop. This year a couple of the parchment paper liners got so wrinkled that by the time the bees chewed them flat to their satisfaction, they had chewed through all 3 layers. When I pulled them out of the holes, a couple of the pollen pellets with eggs attached became dislodged so I carefully put them into a plastic tube for observation. One has spun a cocoon but the other (which is still nice and white) was wriggling around off of its pellet so I put another pellet in close to the larva end that was moving but it did not seem to reattach to either pellet. It is just laying on the bottom of the tube now. We'll see what happens. I suspect the eggs are "stuck" pretty well but possibly since larvae are larger, might dislodge from the pollen pellet easier? I usually do most of my moving quite early - as soon as I see any parasitic wasps flying around and the tubes are capped, I bring them inside.

I believe I figured out why the tubes I took out of the BinderBoard got mildewed. I stuffed most of them in one can but still had more which I divided between containers which also had reeds and cardboard tubes in. The full can did not have enough air circulation and the moisture in the pollen pellets seeped through the uncoated cardboard. None of the others containers got mildewed - I suspect because they had sufficient air circulation to properly dry out. I have been opening a mildewed cocoon every couple of weeks and the larvae so far seem fine - the tubes and cocoons in them have dried out because I have provided air circulation.

ilovebee sure made one ornate condo - quite spectacular!

prariemoon2 - I would suggest splitting open your bamboo tubes to get the cocoons out so you ccan clean them. A good, thick knife blade pressed on the closed end should start a split and then you can gently pry them open. You could replace the tubes with some phragmite reeds or fresh bamboo. Many people in the Philadelphia area grow bamboo of suitable diameter for Mason Bees. Unfortunately both phragmites and bamboo can get rather invasive - may garden centers recommend planting bamboo pot and all to try to contain it.

    Bookmark   June 21, 2010 at 10:58PM
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Thanks for sharing your finding! Dropping the full tubes from two storeys high and no harm done is really amazing. Your test to the theory not to move, drop or sake the new nesting site for fear of dislodging the egg or larva is no longer valid. I would consider this to be the ultimate test, and a new chapter should be written!

    Bookmark   June 23, 2010 at 12:38AM
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2010 was a very productive year for Mason Bees in Havertown, PA. In January I cleaned the 384 paper tubes from the Binderboard blocks, the uncounted paper liners from cardboard tubes and uncounted phragmite reed sections (of all different diameters including some really small like 3 to 5 mm diameter) and wound up with 9 cups of cocoons which according to ilovebee (at 500+ per cup) should be about 4500 bees. I knew I needed to find another outlet for some so donated about 60 tubes to the Backyard Fruit Grower's association:

to be auctioned off to support their Speakers Fund - they were not included in my 9 cup total because they prefer them in the original nesting tubes. I contacted Dr. Karen Strickler who sells the Binderboard and also offers to clean, grade and sell excess bees on consignment:

She had identified a pretty metalic bee as a parasite and advised me to "wait and see" what effect (if any) the mildew might have on the cocoons. She also suggested I contact Dr David Biddinger of the Penn State Fruit Research & Extension Center in Biglerville, PA:

He recently obtained a grant to study Native Pollinators and was delighted to get the 6 cups of cocoons I offered him for his study - especially the smaller diameter ones.

I placed the remaining 3 cups of cocoons out on 11 March 2011 - some in an Emergence Shelter sold by Beediverse:

and some in a 2 pound peanut can (which had cardboard sides so it was easy to punch out three emergence holes). On 17 March, 2011 I started seeing bees emerge! Unfortunately about the only things in bloom are a few daffodils, pussy willow and a maple tree. Of course these are only the males and they are not spending any time in the Binderboard or phragmite reeds I have waiting for the females.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 12:37PM
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Here is an interesting style of mason bee house.
It really allows you to clean the houses thoroughly as well as the bee cocoons.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 10:26PM
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mkaug I like your trays, it's something I can do and I already have a router.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 10:30AM
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I am new to this forum. Oh boy, I think that I have just destroyed my mason bees. I did not do my research. It is April 9 and I took my bee condos down because they were wet and moldy because of all the rain we have had on Vancouver Island this winter/early spring not to mention 140km an hour wind storm. I scraped all my bees out of the troughs. I did not clean the bee cocoons but just put them in a small container and put them in the fridge. I cleaned all the boxes and am waiting for them to dry. HAVE I KILLED THEM??? I now understand that I should clean the boxes in the winter. Does anyone have any suggestions?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 12:22AM
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It's great to see my plans being spread around. I developed the roll-your-own liner system (as shown in gyozu's post, near the top - nice workmanship, gyozu). If you'd like the full instructions on it, select the WSU extension site when you Google mason bees. Links are at the bottom of their article.

To answer the question first posted, any method that will allow cleaning the cocoons will give good results. I raise about 15,000 bees annually (good cocoons, after cleaning and candling), and most of mine grow in the stacked trays as developed by It's simply the fastest to clean when doing large quantities. However, my 150 or so holes that use paper liners are typically near the top for production per tube. If you don't mind rolling tubes over the winter, and want to save money, it's a DIY system that works well.

In my location in Tumwater, it's humid and rainy, like all up and down the Pacific NW and into BC. As detailed in the write-up, I had the best luck with cooking parchment. This food safe material is unaffected by water, and doesn't trap moisture. I've mainly found white in local stores, and the bees love it. I recently found some brown, but this is the first season for it. I don't anticipate problems either way.

I wash under lots of running water with lots of mechanical action in a large kitchen seive, and it's hard to find more than one or two mites in a tray of 400 dry cocoons.

And for Judith, those cocoons are TOUGH. If you have anything that looks like small brown rabbit pellets intact, likely you have viable bees. Put them in a protected space (birds and mice love them!) with a 5/16" escape hole, provide nest holes nearby, and get them out to enjoy the spring. Mine are emerging well, and the yard's abuzz.

Randy Person

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 3:08PM
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Thank you, Randy
Is it OK to put them out even if they have not been cleaned. I do see a lot of yellow so am assuming that those are mites. Actually, when I cleaned out the condos last night - 4 live bees came out - it was the first warm day but my fruit trees have not bloomed yet, so wonder if I should keep them in the fridge a bit longer. What do you think?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 9:27PM
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Males come out first. Look at their faces - males have big white moustaches, really. They need a few days to mature before they can do the ladies any good. And the bees live for about six weeks. So, as long as there are a few flowers around now, let them out. They will be in their prime in a couple weeks as your trees bloom. If you wait until too late, you could miss the height of the bloom.

This late I wouldn't wash them, but it wouldn't hurt to roll them gently around in a kitchen sieve. Put them in (divide if you have more than about 1/4 cup) and just swirl them gently. The yellow is pollen, the mites are very small and white when immature. Use a magnifier to see. As long as you are offering new clean rooms, you should do OK this year. Switch to a cleanable system of your choice next season, and you'll be well in control.

Best of luck,

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 10:30PM
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I would love to see pictures of your system, and possibly purchase one from you if it seems to match my bee keeping style. I am quite intrigued.

The link above to the photo of your system didn't work for me, maybe check it and repost?



    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 6:08PM
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Last year I posted a 'how to,' to make the tray style houses.
When I took the trays apart last winter I gathered 102 cocoons and about a month ago I began to place the cocoons outside near the clean houses. Only 4 cocoons didn't 'hatch'
That is a 96% survival rate, so I think something can be said about the tray house.
I already have about 20 holes filled completely with mud plugs. That is at least 200 more bee's.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2012 at 8:11PM
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Is it possible to drill holes for mason bees directly into dead but still standing trees? I have several killed by last years drought.

And does the tree need to be dead? Would they use a living tree. I realize the drilling might kill a healthy tree, but I have quite a few invasive tallowberry trees that I would smile to see die. At the moment I'm unable to have them cut down.

Our winters here are very mild. I do have a lot of woodpeckers though and wonder if I would simply be feeding them instead of encouraging the bees.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2012 at 5:09PM
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I prefer to manage mason bees using natural acts and products. In nature the bees are exposed to mites, etc. and nature deals with this issue by allowing die-off of infested bees. Bees in new holes tend to live. If you use drilled wood blocks, covered with hail wire to protect from birds, and simply add new ones each spring and clean the old ones for use later, you can assist mother nature and keep the bees in your orchard with only a little work. In order to ensure that the bees do not try to repopulate the old box, place a shoe box with a small hole in the center, over the old bee box around March 15. The bees will choose the new box which is easily available. Around April 10, collect the old box and clean it and place it out again.

    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 7:26AM
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Comments on this "system" would be appreciated.



    Bookmark   March 11, 2013 at 2:02AM
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I know there's a post here about using sand for cleaning pollen mites off mason cocoons, but the only link I can find is broken.

Can someone redirect me?

Mites have just about exterminated my bees.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 11:01AM
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Hi ltilton,

The sand method was first pioneered by Gord Hutchings in BC, Canada. The basic premise is to take the cocoons, shake them or stir them in a bunch of loose sand, and then shake them on a screen/sieve of some kind to dust off most of the sand.

If you don't have a sieve or a screen (I don't) then a slightly messier way to remove the sand is to take them out of the sand and rinse them in a bucket of water, so the sand falls to the bottom of the container and the cocoons float on top.

My favorite method is a combination one advocated by Dave Hunter of Crown Bees (he also credits Gord Hutchings with the original sand idea) where you extract cocoons, tumble them with sand, rinse them, bleach them, rinse them again in clean water, then dry them.

Most sources online say 5-10% bleach solution, but I've done them in up to 25% solution and they've been fine. The cocoons look shinier than normal after that strength of bleach, but the bees still emerge just fine.

Just a couple of cups of sand should be sufficient for about 250 cocoons. For multiple batches, you can re-use the sand if you bake it in the oven for a while to kill off the newly removed mites.

Make sure to clean and bleach your house system too, to remove mites from there. It's just as important as removing them from the cocoons themselves.

If you haven't put the bees out yet, you could still go through this cleaning method, if you do it quickly and in cold water. It's easiest at harvest time though.

Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 12:27PM
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Odd that this post ended up here, I couldn't find it. Thanks for the reply.

I've seen only a few bees hatch this year, and they're so loaded with mites they can't even fly. But I'm afraid that some might have survived and will start the infestation all over again in my new tubes.

    Bookmark   April 30, 2014 at 4:44PM
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"7. Natural reeds in some sort of holder
Can't open up easily for proper cocoon extraction and cleaning. Tubes are never good that can't be opened. THis is nature's way but of course, like an unattended garden, your brood will eventually crash with the mite build-up. "

Why not use locally collected reeds or hollow grass and change them every year.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2014 at 11:32AM
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I've have 2 mason bee blocks for 2 years. one 2X4 block and one 2X6 block. There have been as many as 10 holes used and plugged with clay then in spring a small hole appears and they are gone.
In about 4 holes there is no mud, just bits of grass plugging hole and they stay in there! No holes out ! Anybody got an idea who is building ? New mud filled holes are appearing now.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2014 at 9:18AM
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