How to Clean Out a Bee House With Laminates

1- Take down bee house when bees stop flying (usually September)

It is important to clean out the bee house when the bees are not in the pupa stage of development. While the bee is in the pupa stage it is white and sticky. Handling the cocoons while the bees are sticky can result in a deformed bee. Wings or legs may get stuck to the body and the bee won’t be able to move normally.

Mason bees and other spring time bees should be fully developed waiting to hibernate for the winter by mid September. If you are curious what developmental stage the bees are in it’s always fun opening up a cocoon (just be sure to choose a smaller cocoon because they are usually male and less valuable).

Alfalfa leafcutter bees (summer time bees) will be in the larvae stage and won’t be damaged during clean out in the fall.

2-Gather Supplies:

Cleaning out the bee house can get a little bit dusty so you may want to set up a table in the garage. Flash light (optional) see step 3 to find out why.

3- REMOVE LAMINATE(S) FROM BEE HOUSE. TAKE OFF ELASTIC BANDS AND BACKING MATERIAL.

Be sure to save the elastic bands and backing for reuse next season.

4- SEPARATE THE WOOD TRAYS LAYER BY LAYER.

Try separating the layers by hand. If the layers are hard to get apart you can use a screw driver to assist the separation. Female solitary bees usually leave a little empty space between their last egg cell and the outer plug. This space prevents us from damaging cocoons with the screw driver. Insert the screw driver into the plug and pry the layers apart.

After separating the first layer move on to step 5 sorting. After the first tray is sorted remove the second layer and sort. Repeat the process until all trays have been separated and sorted.

5- REMOVE AND SORT COCOONS, POLLEN, DEBRIS, AND PESTS.

What you might find:

  • Bee cocoons: It is not necessary to identify each cocoon but it can be interesting and fun to see what you have.
    • Mason bees:Will be in cocoons, if you were to open one you would find a fully developed bee. They move really slow  (because they are hibernating) but you can tell they are alive. The cocoons will be separated by clay mud cells. They will have straight black flecs around the cocoons.
    • Californica bees: Californica bees will be fully developed inside their cocoons. Californica bee cocoons can be distinguished by the dark orange colored specs around their cocoons. Their plug and cell dividers are made from a mixture of vegetation and mud.
    • Texana bees: Texana bees will be fully developed inside cocoons. Their cocoons are lighter in color than the other solitary bees. They have brown specs on the outside of their cocoons. Their plug and cell dividers are a mixture of leaves and mud made into a pulp.
    • Sunflower bees: CAN NOT be harvested. They are in the larva stage without cocoons. If you come across any sunflower bee larva in your laminates try not to disturb them. After harvesting the other cocoons, reassemble the layers in the same order and leave the sunflower bees to mature in a shed or garage. We have never had sunflower bees nest in our laminates (however, that doesn’t mean they won’t). Sunflower bees prefer nesting in reed tubes and are only sold in tubes due to the timing of their life cycle.
    • Alfalfa Leafcutter bees:Leafcutter bees are easily distinguishable by their leaf cocoons, plugs and dividers. They will be in a larva stage of development. Unlike the sunflower bees they can be harvested in their larva stage because the mother bee creates the cocoon out of leaves for each egg.  Their pollen is placed inside the leaf cocoons with the egg as well. If you were to open the cocoon you would find a white worm looking larva.
    • Fun Fact:The female cocoons are larger and are laid towards the back of the tunnel. The bees do this purposefully to ensure there are males to mate with the females as soon as the females emerge; and in case a predator gets into the house the males will be eaten first, sorry guys.
  • Bee meconium (aka bee poop): It sounds gross but this is a good sign. Congratulations your bees are alive! The meconium should be straight and black/ dark brown. If it looks curly it could be a sign of thestelis pestwhose cocoons look similar.
  • Mud/leaf plugs: Debris to be discarded.
  • Pollen: Sometimes pollen is leftover if the egg did not mature. This can happen if the pollen was too watery/sticky when placed in the tube. It can also just be extra pollen that wasn’t consumed by the developing bee.
    • Fun Fact: Eating pollen that is local [and it can’t get more local than your own yard] can help reduce the symptoms from seasonal allergies. At least that is what we have found.
  • Pests:(We hope not many). Check out ourhow to manage bee pestspage for a complete list of pests and how to get rid of them. Here are the ones we showed in the video:
    • Checkered flower beetle larvae: Just discard all that you find.
    • Carpet beetles: Simply remove them from the house.
    • Earwigs: Remove from house, firmly stomp on, drown, and then torch 😉
    • Pollen mites: A few of them on the cocoons won’t cause much harm. If you find that there are a lot of pollen mites covering your cocoons you can clean them off with the sand wash or water bath. We recommend using the sand method because there is less chance for operator error.
    • Chalkbrood was not shown on the video but it is the hardest pest to get rid of. If you find chalkbrood has infected your trays be very careful because it can spread to other cocoons easily. Your laminates, any cocoons you suspect may have had contact with the spores and all the tools you are using will need to be disinfected. follow the reccomended solution on ourpest pageunder chalkbrood.

6- PLACE COCOONS IN BEE SAFE, SAVE POLLEN IF DESIRED, THROW THE REST AWAY.

Bee safes are not necessary but they have a few advantages. The main one being they prevent the bee cocoons from drying out in the fridge. If the bee cocoons dry out the bees may die. The average fridge humidity is 20-30% but the ideal moisture for cocoons is 60-70% humidity. In the bee safe there is a foam pad that sits below the cocoons that can be moistened periodically to increase humidity in the bee safe.  If you don’t have a bee safe you can purchase one here, or you can use another type of container, just be sure there are breathing holes in it.   All varieties of tunnel nesting solitary bees can be stored together in the same bee safe.

Pollen can be stored in any container with a lid. Store at room temp or in the fridge.

Discard the mud/leaf plugs, pests, and used reed tubes.

$7.99

Bee Safe

Safely store your bees inside your new Bee Safe.
Comes with absorbent pad and separator.

7- EVALUATE WHAT IS NEEDED FOR NEXT SEASON.

Count up the number of cocoons you harvested. We recommend having an empty tube for every cocoon released. If you need more reed tubes for next season you can get themhere.

How did your bees do? If you feel like you have extra cocoons check out ourbee buy back program hereto get store credit for your bees.

If you feel your bees could have done better lets talk about a few things that might have gone wronghere.

8- PLACE BEE SAFE IN REFRIGERATOR.

Make sure there is a little moisture in the bottom of the bee safe. The cocoons should not be submerged though so be careful. Then place the bee safe in the fridge. The bees will be in hibernating heaven. Check the bee safe monthly to ensure there is still moisture and to inspect for mold.

If you notice any mold growing on the cocoons just rinse the mold off the cocoons and containers with a bleach solution (click here for instructions), pat dry and place them back in the fridge. Mold spores can come from the other foods in the fridge like cheese or broccoli and are not a problem once removed from the cocoons.

Alternative storage method:Bees can be stored outdoors but the downside to this method is bees may emerge prematurely. If the bees emerge too early there is risk of them freezing to death with a frost.

 

9- BRUSH OUT WOOD TRAYS, REPLACE BACKING AND ELASTICS AND PUT AWAY FOR WINTER.

As long as chalkbrood was not found in the laminates (wood trays) there is no need to sanitize the trays. Simply use a stiff bristle brush (or your kids toothbrush, wink, wink)  and brush any remaining debris from the trays. Re-stack trays, making sure they fit together properly. After the stack is assembled put on back material (usually cardboard or tape) and secure with elastic bands.

Put the clean trays back in your bee house and set it somewhere for the winter. In the basement, a shed or garage is suitable.

10- WAIT PATIENTLY UNTIL NEXT SPRING.

This might be the hardest part :). Especially if your winters are as cold and snowy as ours!

Be sure to sign up for our news letter and follow us on  facebook. We will let you know when it’s time to get your bee house out again.