Around December last year I harvested a few thousand cocoons that my mason bees produced. These cocoons are similar to how caterpillars pupate into butterflies. Different from how honey bees are formed, since solitary bees have a different life cycle. During the spring, you may have seen my webcam capturing the action of these bees making homes in some cavities I provided for them. This happens from late February through April, then the adult bees are gone and the larva inside the cavities grow. Eventually going through a metamorphosis and forming into adult bees in these cocoons.
I have learned how to harvest these cocoons, I do this to keep the pest population low. Since in the wild many predators go after these cocoons. Such as gnat sized wasps, pollen mites and even birds. By removing these cocoons from outside I can store them in a safe place and remove the insects that pray on them.
Starting off I stack the bee boards near a work bench for easy access. And I take a screw driver and apply some tape on the end to blunt it. I use the screw driver and a wooden stick to pry loose the cocoons. They are set in mud by the adult mason bees, thats where they got their name.
This year harvesting went a little easier, as previous years I used bamboo reeds for their homes. This made taking out the cocoons quite troublesome, as I would have to split them. And sometimes what was inside would go flying everywhere as the bamboo did not open without alot of force. By using these boards I am able to open the homes much more easily and just running a screw driver down the channels takes them out.
Upon inspection of the cocoons I noticed I had more females for that year, which is good as they are more important for pollination and home building. The size of the cocoon tells me if they are a male or female, and the size of the cavity determines how the sex ratio. So since these bee boards are much longer than the previous bamboo reed homes there are many more females this season. Looking forward to hatching them in a few months, I think I will have a pretty busy bee area with all of them.
I split this video into two parts since it was over an hour long. Figured an hour of just watching bees being harvested many be too much. So I will post part two in a few days.
I carefully go through these homes using my wooden stick and my screwdriver and try not to damage any cocoons. Though every time I do this I do have a few casualties. I think thats okay if a few get hurt out of thousands that are still good.
The cocoons stick together so I have to knock them out of the trays and them break the mud off of them. Though some mud can stay on the cocoons as I will be washing them afterwards.
Pollen can be found in these homes, that is what the larva eats as it grows and then finally spins a cocoon. Theres left over pollen when the larva did not need to eat all of it or died before consuming it all. I wear a face mask when doing this harvest as it makes my nose and eyes water from the spring pollen found in the homes.
A hole can be seen in the above cocoon, this is a sign that those gnat sized wasps penetrated the home and laid their own wasp larva inside. That is the pest I mostly fight. Next season I plan on removing the trays before the wasps can get to them. About a month after the adult bees are done for the year.
A long row of female mason bee cocoons, each channel can hold dozens of these cocoons. All laid by a single mason bee for the most part, every female mason bee is a queen and lays their own offspring.
As I pull out the cocoons I check them out for any pests, those black spots is just larva poop and not pests.
Those are the dead wasps that got trapped inside the homes or just died after laying their own larva in the cocoons as seen above.
Using my wooden stick I break up the mud a little so make it easier to remove the cocoons. If I apply too much force I can hurt the bees inside the cocoons. So I have a technique to try to minimize that.
As I isolate the cocoons I drop them in a jar to wait for their bath. I use distilled water with just a couple drops of spearmint essential oil to help clean them and kill the non-bee pests.
It may look violent how I knock them out with my screw driver, but Ive seen others do it the same way. I guess we will find out soon if the way I did it was okay. Some of the cocoons appear to be "dented" so I hope they still okay inside.
Maybe next year I will find a better tool to dislodge them, but using what I had this year seemed to work well. Just hope theres not a high failure rate from the forceful pushing of the cocoons out of the homes.
I lay the dislodged cocoons the table and go through them to try to remove some of the mud.
Filled up many jars, but that is not their final resting place. After a wash they get dried using my specially designed milk crates and have fans air dry them overnight. Then they go into mesh bags and stored in my refrigerator. Feels kinda funny storing thousands of bees in my fridge, but thats okay. If it helps out the ecosystem and my plants Im cool with that.
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