Mason bees are my current insect obsession. I think we all should have one indigenous insect species to champion, and the blue western mason bee has impressed me so much that it's now a priority for my 2013 garden.
Last year, I started with 20 cocoons and one small house. Here's what it looked like at the end of the season:
There are two plugged tubes on the bottom of the nest box, which indicates that I have some sort of bee larvae waiting to be harvested.
There was significant water damage to my house though- water seeped into the bolts holding the house together, and along the roof.
Despite the issues, I still had some cocoons to harvest- 8 in total.
Behold, the contents of the tubes- I had 8 cocoons (3 female, 5 male), a dead mason bee, and a bunch of miscellaneous debris.
Here's a close up of the bee who decided to use my bee nest. I promised her that I'd take care of her offspring to the best of my ability before burying her unceremoniously in the compost pile.
A close up of the bee tube debris- the concave brown things are mud plugs- the yellow stuff is pollen- and the teeny tiny little bits are feces.
I made several mistakes in 2012 that I hope that I won't repeat in 2013:
1. I didn't put my house in a sheltered area. I had falsely assumed that the home would be sheltered well enough on its own. Building something like this is a priority for me before putting out my cocoons:
2. I'm going to release my cocoons in two different batches, perhaps 2 weeks apart. My first 20 cocoons were soaked and soggy due to some crazy cold rain and due to the exposure issue I mentioned above- I can't imagine it was great to emerge under such chilly and wet conditions.
3. Don't kill before you know what it is. I thought I had a yellow jacket in my house (it was silhouetted against a bright window) and I killed it. Afterwards, I discovered that I had murdered one of my own mason bees. Whoops.
Now I have a total of 37 cocoons in my fridge, thanks to Beediverse and Wild Birds Unlimited. I'll be building a mason bee lodge here soon, and will have photos for you as soon as I'm finished!