214 - Paul - Mason Bees in (an unusually) Cool Wet Spring


Andony Melathopoulos: [00:00:00] Compared to the last couple of Springs. This spring has been unusual in the Pacific Northwest region in that it has been characterized by cool and wet. Now I've been getting a lot of questions as have my colleagues and the master gardening program about blue orchard bees or Mason bees, Osmium area which many homeowners have in their backyards to pollinate their fruit trees.

Also just to watch them, cause they're a delightful bee to have and asking how the bees are doing and whether there are any strategies to help the bees along because this spring, there had been very few good forging days available for these bees, even though. Tend to forge and cool weather as their natural.

That's the kind of typical weather that we have here in the Pacific Northwest. People are curious do they do things right? And how are they're doing? And so I reached out to the person I always go to when I have questions about blue blue orchard bees. That's Jerry Paul he's. He's on the he's on the board of the Benton soil and water conservation district.

He's a master Mel autologist. [00:01:00] You might recall Jerry from a previous episode where he talked about the be buddies program, which we'll talk a little bit more about and give us an update on in this episode an initiative with Benton. Water and conservation district. And he's also him and his wife head up the Jerry and Judith Paul pollinator health fund which you can make a donation to.

I'm going to put a link in the show notes, which support an endowment for the BibTeX on. Be taxonomists position here at Oregon state university. So Jerry is really knowledgeable and he's got some, he walked into my office with some graphs of temperature and weather and some real strategies that he uses to ensure that he always gets good Mason bee returns regardless of the weather.

So without further ado let's let's go talk with Jerry this week on pollination.

Okay. We are reprised a reprisal with Jerry Paul from Benton soil, water conservation district, [00:02:00] and the master methodologists. Welcome back to pollination.

Jerry Paul: Glad to be here. Thank you very much for having me.

Andony Melathopoulos: People might remember. We had an episode. Earlier with you where you talked about the be buddies program and which is this great Mason bee program that conservation district does here in Benton county.

And what I wanted to talk to you today, and I see you're wearing. T-shirt is everybody wants to know what's going on with Mason bees these days, but just to begin with, to remind people that episode what's the bee buddies program,

Jerry Paul: the B buddy program was a program that we established to help the local population gardeners home gardeners.

We're doing Mason bees, but they weren't doing it correctly. They would buy a box, buy some cocoons, leave it out there. And two years later the box would be completely destroyed by parasites and that, so develop the program to help them where. I provided them the box, the cocoons on the release date that was here in Corvallis [00:03:00] around end of March, 1st of April.

And then they would enjoy the fruits of that B box and the. And some educational material that went along with it. And then on June 1st, when generally the parasites of the wasp hatch out here, we would go and collect the box store the tubes properly through the winter months. And then in October, occasionally w we first started by putting on training classes of how to open the nesting tubes and.

Koons properly. And we partnered with the Lynn county master gardeners and then again put them in the refrigerator until March and then started the program over. And we did that for about three years. And then the program. Got to be a little bit more work and not the volunteers that needed to. So what we did is we offered all of our bee buddies to purchase that [00:04:00] box.

And along with two classes, one in March or the April, yeah, I guess June timeframe now of how to properly take your box down and store it. And then again, in September, timeframe. We'll put on the last class on how to clean those cocoons. So hopefully those 30 or 40 B buddies will now be doing it properly.

And moving on so that we were doing all the work and the education part of that program ceased. And that really hurt me a lot. So we're back into another way of doing education now. I

Andony Melathopoulos: imagine. Program matures and it he started, he instigated, you've got all these be buddies now, right across the county.

And now they're they're doing responsible Mason bee management. So what more can you ask for? That's

Jerry Paul: true. And not only that it was really interesting because we able to. Get some B buddies through another one of our directors who started a small group [00:05:00] in the Monroe area where they're small farmers.

And so we're doing that to try to educate the smaller farmers. And I've also been involved with another group of individuals that are actually doing Mason bees on. And so it's a whole new experience for me as well. Another learning

Andony Melathopoulos: experience. I imagine I'm glad you talked about learning experiences because this year in Western, Oregon, it has been unusually wet and cool the time of the year when Mason.

In the wild, but emerge and, make a lot of cocoons. It seems like a year that would have been tough. So why I've ha why have you heard today is just give us work towards the end of the season, or maybe not, maybe some people are just getting started, but just to look back. So how unusual a year was this?

Jerry Paul: It was quite unusual, although. And [00:06:00] what I'm about to say anywhere is nothing scientific to be taken scientifically. It's an observation of what I've looked at because two years ago, we did not get a very good crop of Mason Baeza. And that was not this weather condition that we have the following year.

It was a great Mason bee season. And that's when we had that big heat wave toward the end of the season, which I was afraid. All of the Mason bee cocoons were in paper bags and cardboard boxes in a garage like you're supposed to do for the summer. And we had that extremely hot weather and I was afraid.

The cocoons might have been destroyed because of that heat wave, getting a little off track. But when I started to place those cocoons back out, the only thing that heat wave killed was all the pollen

Andony Melathopoulos: mites. Just we were doing that large Mason bee survey health survey. [00:07:00] And Sarah and Kate is leading that up and she had a hard time finding samples with live Pala mites.

Jerry Paul: Yes, we, I, she asked me to look through my collection and we couldn't find them either. So now I've got a bunch of nice clean cocoons that I didn't know whether we're going to make it. And now we hit this March area where it's going to rain and be cold. So put out the boxes anyway, at the end of March did not put out the cocoons at that time, then waited a couple of weeks and put out half of the cocoons.

And luckily I think one of the things that I have noticed is that the generally a 6,000 square foot, lot of a homeowner that's raising Mason bees really doesn't have the. That's necessary to support their bees. During these hard times, it takes an abundance of plant material of different times [00:08:00] when they flower.

So as my experience. Also when you put out a Mason bee box, you put it facing east west. And because of this, I actually put it, excuse me, Southwest. I put it a little more west than normal to capture the sun this coming year. I didn't know that it was going to be as long. So I, every time the sun was out, no matter what time of day, cause here in Oregon, the suns, it seems to rain all day and the sun tends to come out later in the afternoon.

So I had the boxes that I put out closer to areas where it might capture that afternoon sun. So a couple of statistics from the end of March until today, we only have. That's 68 days. We only had 46 days that were above 55 degrees. And that's what the Mason bee likes in order

Andony Melathopoulos: to a total of [00:09:00] 60 days, we had about 40, 46 there's about 20 days there that it was too cold for Mason bee to forage.

Jerry Paul: And even during those times, when during the 55 degree temperature, we had 41 days of rain. And so the Mason bees were actually flying in a mist, which they also do. That's why they're a great pollinator. So they come out early at 55 degrees and they can also move around in the rain where our other pollinators, the honeybee and stuff tends to stay inside.

We had a lot of rain. Yeah. We had a lot of rain. We had 15 inches in that 68 days. So that's a lot of rain. And every time I would go out to see what the bees were doing. So a lot of little heads sticking out of the mess, nesting tubes, waiting for the weather to warm up. But as soon as it got above 55 degrees, they would start to fly.


Andony Melathopoulos: how many good days some arch have we had, like good forgings.

Jerry Paul: I think there's only [00:10:00] 46. Oh.

Andony Melathopoulos: But there was some of those 46 days of raining.

Jerry Paul: Yeah. Just a little bit on this, it was still like, there was some days

Andony Melathopoulos: it was not missing there,

Jerry Paul: Jerry. Yes. Correct. In that period we had on March 12th, we had three inches of rain.

And then again in may we had another inch of rain, so yes, it did rain. All right. But my point being too is that as these bees came out, I had at least 10 different varieties of plant materials because Mason bees only need good one. A place to nest and a mud source. We had plenty of more mud, but again, addressing a mud source.

The Mason bee does not go along the ground. Everybody says, oh, Oregon's got a lot of mud. They go up and down a vertical surface, testing the mud to get the mud at the exact consistency that they want it. So a mud hole was really close to where they are as [00:11:00] another. And the flowering source next to what they need is a good story.


Andony Melathopoulos: So let me just pick up on those two things. So the first thing that you've mentioned a couple of times is that people get Mason bees. And I imagine this is the picture. They've got a backyard with lawn and they've got one cherry tree or one, and that's all they've got. That's probably the typical, and that's not what you have.

That's correct. Tell us what's a better setup to get beat, especially. Knowing spring is going to be a time when an entire, week might go by and the blue might be lost. What's the better strategy for gardening for Mason bees?

Jerry Paul: Like all of the pollinators, I think with bass and bees, we need to have.

A long season of blooms available with our plant materials. And so in my case, I started with the rabies and it was in full bloom in the rain and March. And so I, [00:12:00] the observation is. From my standpoint, in my five acres that the plant materials are still on track as no matter what the weather was in the last few years, because they, the rabies came out, the Oregon grape was all in bloom and then the B, and then as soon as that went away, I'm looking out it's still cold and rainy, but now the maple tree, the big leaf Maples are starting to bloom.

And so there's a constant source of any time. The bees. The fly there, something for them to pollinate and get their stuff. Then after the Maples went away, the bitter cherry, the prunus, and marginata started to bloom. Then I had a couple of apple trees and my neighbor has an, a small orchard. Then the crab apples came out.

And then after all of those start to go away. The Oaks start to bloom. And so there's a constant source of materials for the bees to feed on in the backyard situation that you're talking about. Yes, they [00:13:00] have the cherry tree. Most people all want to do their plum tree and that's the early bloomer.

And maybe they'll have an Oregon grape, but just remember to the Mason bee will fly at least the distance of a. Football field. And so hopefully the neighborhood and here in Corvallis, we're wondering too one of our friends, the street trees that we have planted are in bloom. So they probably can take advantage of some of that, but

Andony Melathopoulos: and I do, but just to come that, that early bloom, I think that's a mistake that I often see is that people are waiting for the fruit tree to come in, but they really, when you put the blocks out, there should be something in bloom already.

And. Rye, these are great. And if you don't mind going exotic, I always find that Rosemary is in God, lots of bloom. By the time you put it as early as you can possibly put your cocoons out, there's going to be something there.

Jerry Paul: Absolutely. And I don't think it stops because now, the Oaks are all done.

I'm looking around my property. The bees are still really very active. So [00:14:00] you need to extend that season of your plants and you're absolutely right. A lot of the herbs are out. So you need to look at a long season of blooms for probably I'm not going to have our people take the boxes down now.

And probably till the end of June, because of the activity, the Mason beasts felt like they were still in the refrigerator. Because another colleague of mine who does metal foam, he just put out his Mason bees for the metal foam crop two weeks ago. Yup.

Andony Melathopoulos: Look down here at Corvallis is just coming into full bloom.

It is. Yeah.

Jerry Paul: And it's behind as well. They think that the metal foam is a little bit behind bloom this year because of the weather. And it also depends on if you look at the fields, the elevation of the rolling Hills in the middle of. Just takes a little bit of temperature difference as I've observed where we have the Mason bees out is not as [00:15:00] a full bloom as where it is at a little bit higher

Andony Melathopoulos: elevation.

And just for our listeners who are not from Western Oregon, meadow foam is a unique. I see crop that we only grow here. It's this it's a low growing it's adapted from a native plant. Yes. And it's Amantha's right? Yeah. Something like that. It's a low growing plant and it's people will produce Mason bees on it.

Like it's just as a abundant nectar. The white fields is a gorgeous planet, but it does, it is coming towards the end of what people traditionally think of in terms of Mason bee, putting Mason bees out, oftentimes I did the same thing. I put my Mason bees out at the beginning of April and it was cold.

This, not in previous years, we've had some great weather, but here we had some cold weather. And if one strategy I've heard people talk about is not putting all your cocoons out in one, go just to hedge your bets against whether is that a good

Jerry Paul: idea? Very good idea. And that's what we did that this [00:16:00] year.

That's the first year in the be buddy program. I was not able to do that because I want everybody's yard and installed the box. And I didn't want to, but this year I was able to do a. Instructed the be buddies to do that as well. When I delivered the box, put out half your cocoons, wait two weeks and put out another house.

Another interesting thing about the Mason bee and the products that they're, they tried Mason, bees and almonds, and. That has some success and no success because the, like an almond, once the flour is pollinated, it doesn't put out, it starts building the seed. Same with metal foam, a flour in meadow foam.

Once it is pollinated, it stops providing the The food source for the bees. So that's why a lot of the flower will just start to close up right away. So that's another issue when that monoculture disappears. Yeah. Those bees, the bees are still looking for things. So we're lucky here in Oregon, we have plenty of blackberries and they tend to [00:17:00] finish their cycle on the black.

In those areas where people are using it for in these monoculture,

Andony Melathopoulos: we were having a conversation previous to this and, there's, there seems to be a hard lip cause I'm sure other people are saying you're like this, I should just wait indefinitely, put them out in the mid summer.

There are limits to when you can put your bees out, both in terms of the bees capacity to live that long. But also in terms of parasites, can you talk. Sort of these limits of, how late can you put these out and what's the case this year? I think that's

Jerry Paul: a good question because I ma a B is like a bear it's in hibernation in the refrigerator or when it's cold or out in the outdoors until the temperature reaches 55 degrees.

And if you, I don't know how long you can keep them in cold storage before they use up all of the. Stored fats before they, so the males all hatch first and they were out really on almost on time for some reason. And they were looking [00:18:00] around, but the females tend to stay behind and in their.

Hatching out. And I don't know whether that's a case where we can extend it very much further, but I know maybe it's better to talk or need to talk to some of the other people who are putting them out later that are doing Mason bees professionally to see how late they've done. But this is the first.

I've seen anybody put them out as late as April. And it does not seem to affect. I visited the site the other day and there is so much activity. It's almost like a honeybee hive. You can hear the bees humming in our backyard. You hardly ever hear a Mason bee. Hum. Because you only have five or six at a time.

Yeah. You don't have two or 300.

Andony Melathopoulos: You talked to a lot of people who producing bees and you were talking also just getting, you're going to meet, there's an event coming up this week and you're going to have people report back to you, how things are going. What are you hearing from people in terms [00:19:00] of their returns this year?

Jen Larson, who runs our master beekeeping and master melody. The program has already told me, it's way down from last year. And I, we have our boxes down by the greenhouses there and we got a fraction of last year's returns. What are you hearing?

Jerry Paul: I haven't heard anything yet.

I hope that I've asked them all to come to the event and bring me a picture of their, a B box and their mud source. And I could answer that question later, as far as. My boxes go. I don't see any difference. I've had really a good season. There's six of them that I put out three neighbors and my own, and they all seem to be doing just about what they did last.

I think we're going to leave them out longer. As I said, because I've also talked to another entomologist that specializes more in beetles and bugs and that kind of stuff. And I asked her should I be concerned about the wasps that are going to hatch June 1st? And she said, no, it looks like everything is going to be later.

As far as the parasites go. [00:20:00] Because she was out collecting bugs for an event and couldn't find hardly anything to share with the group. This is a strange year and I don't know whether that's gonna continue next year, but it looks like we can push them a little bit further. But time will tell.


Andony Melathopoulos: what I'm curious, we talked a little bit about. It's not just mud on the surface. It, they really are looking for consistency in a pit with a gradient of moisture, is ideal for them that they can find the clay at the right level. But can you tell us a little bit about what these pits and also you're going to have people at this event, bring you the mud.

What are you going to do with that mud? No,


Jerry Paul: would not going to have them bring them. May have said, I want him to bring me a picture of their mud source because when I go and pick up the box, everybody's, I tell them just to take and dig a hole that's about 12 by 12, 12 inches deep. And keep it wet at the bottom all the time that their boxes out there.

It's yes. And then when I go and pick it up, I see no mud sources. Mason bee flies to a [00:21:00] flower and picks up pollen makes a little pollen ball. And how many trips do you think that takes her to make a pollen ball? That's the size of a small P. Then she has to go to a mud source and getting mouthfuls of mud to make the cap and cap that off.

That's another. So the closer the flowering source is, and the closer the mud is the faster, she will be able to complete that process. So the mud soar should be within 20 feet of where she is. So it's a quick trip. So you go back to these people. And so this year I want to see that they bring me a picture of their mud source, and I don't want them to bring the box because as part of the process of taking the box down, you take the nesting tubes out, holding them vertical and you turn them upright.

The opening of the tubes are facing up so that if you juggle the tubes at all, and there are still an egg there, it doesn't fall off the pollen source. It stays on the pollen source. And so that's really important. [00:22:00] A lot of people might do that, take it out of their jiggle, and we're putting them in a paper bag to put them in a warm area to.

Go through their cycle. If they jiggle that egg off of the pollen source, it that's going to die.

Andony Melathopoulos: Okay. You take a look at, and I did, I was recently at I'm at valley vineyards. Steven Paisley has a nice manages the Mason bee domicile right at the vineyard, as he pulled into the parking lot, had this really nice pitch.

With a covering that the bees could get in, keeps it it was a really beautiful design. I but he did take it just like you said, took as mud seriously. Made sure it was very close to the domicile and I could just see those bees were doing great. They're up on the, just off the I five.

Jerry Paul: Yeah, I think the bees will just leave if they can't find the mud source in a really dry areas.

Andony Melathopoulos: The last thing I did want to cover is you did met yours, had success. This year was a challenge. So many of us didn't do so well, you do have this series of plants and you've talked a little bit about them, but I was a [00:23:00] beneficiary of the Benton soil and water conservation districts plant sale.

Tell us a little bit about where we can get some great native plants. When do you have to, and I ordered early, I didn't get my. Sadly but got all the rest of the plants. When do people need to get their orders in for getting native plants, if you're inventing county or from other soil and water conservation districts

Jerry Paul: probably be opening up within the next few months.

We're have a wide variety of plants. We established a committee this year, the help us tell us what kind of plants that they want. And so we're going to modify something. For a longer session. I also want to mention that the Oregon bee Atlas has a great design of some hedge row stuff. You need to look at the hedgerow material and plan your garden.

It doesn't have to be very big. A lot of people start to large, start with a 10 by 10 Platt plot and take care of it and then build a. So the this year, the plant pickup will [00:24:00] be out at the fairgrounds and the new building that they have out there. But keep checking the website. I'm not sure because of last year's.

It was really hard on the staff. We had, we lost a couple of a pandemic

Andony Melathopoulos: and stuff.

Jerry Paul: Yeah. Pandemic and a staff member was able to move on to a better position. And so it was tough this year. We're hiring To do that. W it went really well. And I hope all of the plants do that, but we have also, bare root seeds potted plants and in quite a variety.

But I think that we're going to target more the full range of plants this year. Not so much the trees.

Andony Melathopoulos: For those of you who who are not in Benton county, your soil water conservation district is likely to have a plant sale. It is. Fordable place to find strange and weird native plants. It really can't be beat.

Make sure to look them up and thank you so much, Jerry, for giving us some tips on dealing with the challenges of weather and and our Mason

Jerry Paul: bees. Thanks for having me great to be here.[00:25:00]

It’s been a cold and wet spring across the Pacific Northwest region. In this episode we learn about what impacts it may have had on cocoon production and what you can do to ensure you maintain bee productivity across a range of spring conditions.

Jerry Paul from the Benton Soil and Water Conservation District (BSWCD). Heath is BSWCD’s Communication and Community Engagement Manager and Jerry has been involved with BSWCD as a volunteer and Board Member. PolliNation caught up with Heath and Jerry at the BSWCD office to talk about caring for orchard mason bees (Osmia lignaria) in the spring and their outreach initiative – the Bee Buddies program – that is encouraging stewardship of people cultivating these bees.

Links Mentioned:

In Memoriam:

Remembering Jerry Paul

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