Here is a photo of a nesting block that was not returned on time and left out in a backyard all summer. Predators have killed almost all of the developing mason bees inside.
Once the bees are fully formed in cocoons, it is time to take them out of the nesting blocks to clean them. We use a machine that extracts the bees from the nesting blocks and deposits them into a bucket so they can be sifted. We also have tools that we can use to manually scrap the bees out of the blocks. They are very sturdy!
As you can see, there is a lot more in the blocks than just bee cocoons.
After the bees have been sifted, it is time for a wash! The cocoons are waterproof so we soak them in a bleach/water bath for ten minutes before putting them on racks and washing them with the garden hose. We do this to remove the mud plugs, pollen mites, and chalkbrood fungus.
After the wash, the bees are then put in our drying tower overnight and sorted the next day. We put them on a light board and any cocoon that allows light to shine all the way through does not contain a viable bee (bottom left photo). This process is much like candling a chicken egg. The final step is to count and weigh each batch of bees.
Finally the clean bees are put into a walk-in refrigerator to hibernate for the winter season.
These are the bees that were grown in your backyards this spring and will be put back into the rental program next year or end up as pollinators on one of the local farms we work with. Every renter has an impact on our food system and you are helping us change the agricultural industry one bee at a time!
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It feels like spring has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest and mason bees are starting to fly. Everyone's backyard yard is a little different so bee activity levels can vary at this point in the season.