Wild Beekeeping – the next step

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Trail camera

A few photos of our larger mammals from the past few days.

Now that it is October, it is time to progress our wild beekeeping onto the next stage. Red Mason bees fly in the spring and nest in tunnels, creating compartments with mud and putting a pile of pollen and an egg into each compartment. We have two solitary bee observation nest boxes:

The two solitary bee nests on the side of the hide.
The side of one of the nests removed in the spring to show the completed tunnels.

Since the bees stopped flying in late spring, we took the boxes inside and kept them in a cool, dark place – the understairs cupboard.

Inevitably, many parasites will have attacked the nests to try to take advantage of the pollen stores and it is now necessary to clean away these parasites and transfer the bee cocoons safely to the fridge for the winter.

While the boxes have been under the stairs, the eggs have hatched into larvae, who have lived off the pollen store through the summer and by now have pupated into hard and resilient cocoons which contain the new adult bees within, ready to emerge next spring.

The box in October with lots of dark cocoons.
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The blocks with the perspex sides removed.
Pollen mites – one of many types of parasites that attack the nests.
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Some of the extracted bee cocoons
Washing the cocoons. They float – everything else sinks.



Another stage of the cleaning – shaking the cocoons in sand, using the abrasive action to remove surface parasites.

The cocoons have now gone into the fridge in a special Bee Humidifier box to keep them in the perfect conditions until spring.

Two other species of bee had used the boxes before we brought them indoors:

Leafcutter bee cocoons

The Leafcutter bees lay their eggs in a similar style to the mason bees but they form their compartments with cut pieces of leaves rather than mud, which then forms a cigar.

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The middle tunnel contains the young of Osmia leaiana – the Orange Vented Bee

The young of both the Leafcutter bees and the Orange Vented bees spend the winter as larvae rather than already-formed adults in a tough cocoon. They are, therefore, very delicate and cannot be cleaned up like it is possible to do with the Red Masons. I am going to pack the Leafcutter cigars and the Orange Vented bee larvae in vermiculite and put them back under the stairs until the spring.

The boxes also need stiff brushing and washing to remove any potential lingering nasties:

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The boxes with the cocoons removed but before brushing and washing.
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All cleaned and drying by the Aga. They will all go into the freezer for a month next just to be on the safe side.

All very time consuming but completely fascinating.

The Mustelid Observation box is now finished and ready for action:


The piece of drain pipe has been cut away so that any animals using the tunnel can be photographed on the trail camera.



For two nights, there were no visitors to the box. However, last night we had a mouse:


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Progress! This little animal had removed all the peanuts by morning. However, we were a bit dissatisfied with the quality of the image. This is a screen shot from a video and so, if just photographs are being taken, the quality will be better. Overnight tonight we have changed the camera with one that we think has better resolution and also set it onto photo mode and so we shall wait and see what happens next.


It has been a great summer for British grapes and, elsewhere, we have a vine on a south facing wall which is doing extremely well and the harvest is heavy every year.  However,  the grapes are full of seeds and so supply far exceeds human demand. I have put some bunches of the grapes out in the meadows to see what will eat them.

Finishing today on the subject of Wild Carrot seed heads:

Wild Carrot seed heads.

Although the meadows have mostly been cut by now, we have left areas that have a lot of  seed-bearing plants such as Wild Carrot and Knapweed. It is lovely to see flocks of Goldfinch roaming the meadows feeding on these seeds. The bird ringer has put his mist nets up near the stands of carrot to target them and here is a juvenile Goldfinch. Note it’s beak that comes to the most tiny point to be able to deal with the smallest of seeds.




2 thoughts on “Wild Beekeeping – the next step

  1. The bee stuff is fascinating! Did you just leave the empty bee compartments out and wait for something to arrive? You seem to have got a lot!

  2. Yes – the bees were already here. I love the mason bees – carry pollen on their tummies, work so hard and do not sting! When you have a garden again, Ellie, I will get you a Wild Bee Nest Box for Christmas!

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