JUNE 1997 – VOLUME 5


The Grapevine Letters From Customers
Northwest Flower and Garden Show The Bee Tree
Of Mice and Bumblebees Great Bee Book
The Bee With Mitts Knox Cellars In The Smithsonian
Master Gardner International Conference Osmia Rufa Found
To Bee Mecca Ceratina, A New Backyard Bee
We’ve Been Stung Pollinating Pears
Cool Bees


The Grapevine

Can it really be August since we last sent you an Urban Farmer? For those of you new to our mailing list, this occasional newsletter surfaces when we have accumulated enough new information to justify an issue and when we have enough time to produce it.

The ensuing ten months have been amazing ones for Knox Cellars. We have been swamped with sales of all our products. Native bees are finally getting the attention they deserve.

We have had mention in four national magazines; several national catalogs are carrying our products, and others are talking with us. We have been hard at work designing and setting up manufacture of a really exciting new nesting system for Orchard mason Bees which we expect to have ready for you by Christmas, and we are still working away at our book about bumblebees, “Humblebee Bumblebee”.

The best news is that the Orchard Mason nesting season appears to have been a good one as of this date. We should have lots of bees for you and your friends this year. We start shipping in November. Remember. First come, first served until they are gone.


Letter From Our Customers

We really love receiving letters from you and sharing your bee experiences. Here are some of our recent favorites:

Harvey Hepper of Mukilteo, WA writes “Four or five years ago I ordered two pollinators. The first year those 6 holes filled 27. Since then they have exploded into umpteen last year and this year 2 x umpteen. My son conned me out of a 9 hole block and his explosion outdid mine by three fold. They like it in Mukilteo.”

And from Lebanon Oregon, Ty Hodges writes this note. “OK so I bought this nice little kit, a little house with three holes filled and an extra house with it. So far the guys have filled the small house and 20 holes in the other house and they won’t let up. With the aid of my trusty HP calculator I came up with about 200K bees in 6 years, what am I going to do with 200K bees? Anyway your product worked as you said, my dad loves it, comes in everyday, “they got 10 holes” “they got 12 holes”… gives the old geezer something to worry about!”.

Judy Clements of Lafayette Tennessee writes to confirm that Orchard Mason bees pollinate strawberries in her commercial greenhouse. We will be shipping her a bunch next fall to get her into production.


 Northwest Flower and Garden Show

This great February event in Seattle has become a highlight in the Knox Cellars year. This year we had our own booth and for the second year Brian was a speaker on the seminar program. If you didn’t make it this year, come in 1998. Show dates are Feb. 4 thru 8 at the Washington State Convention Center in Seattle. Give yourself a treat, this is a remarkable show. If you come be sure to drop by our booth and say “hello”.

The Bee Tree

Our home town Park Department, with lots of volunteer help has developed a wonderful riparian zone interpretive park along a stream that runs through town and into Bellingham Bay. It has been planted with native vegetation, much of which blooms in the spring and feeds the native bees. Knox Cellars is supplying a “Bee Tree”, a dry barkless trunk of birch drilled with 105 six inch deep 5/16 inch holes and a equal number of 1/4 inch holes for the leafcutter species,. The “Bee Tree” was taken to one of our secret bee trapping locations where it was filled with nesting cells by eager Orchard Masons. This winter we will install it in the park and in the spring the public will see one of nature’s wonders unfold. Interpretive text will describe the wonderful cycle of nature starting with the death of a tree, the arrival of boring beetles followed by the nesting bees which pollinate the trees and berries which feed the birds who spread the seeds to start another bee tree. If this is an idea you can use in your town we would be happy to send you the language of our “Bee Tree” interpretive text.


Of Mice and Bumblebees

Gub Maines sent us a great clipping from an English gardening magazine. Eric Masters, a retired Dorset forester, concerned about the decline in the British bumblebee population is putting nesting boxes about the countryside. He has found that an old mouse nest placed in the box increased the acceptance of the boxes by the searching queens. Makes sense as old mouse nests in the ground have been the usual nesting habitat for bumbles through the ages. Perhaps they have an inbred attraction to the odor of a mouse nest? Ask your water meter reader to collect a mouse nest for your HUMBLE BUMBLE HOME, they frequently find nests in the underground meter boxes.


A Great Bee Book

If learning about Orchard Mason Bees has increased your thirst for more knowledge about bees we have found the perfect book for you. It is “Bees of The World” by Anthony Raw and Christopher O’Toole, Blandford Publishing, London. 192 pages. This book spreads the world of bees before you with wonderful photos and very readable prose. We are so impressed that we are stocking it. You will find it fascinating. Buy yourself a gift.


The Bee With Mitts

We caught a strange looking bee in our garden last summer. It had long specialized gray hairs on its’ front legs that made it appear to be wearing a pair of first baseman’s mitts. We sent it off to the USDA Bee Lab in Logan Utah for identification and Terry Griswold dubbed it a male Megachile frigida Science does no know the use of the strange large hairs. They think it may have something to do with courtship and mating but really don’t know. Perhaps a mystery for an observant amateur to solve.


Knox Cellars In The Smithsonian

What a thrill, just last week we were asked by The Smithsonian Institute to send a copy of “The Orchard Mason Bee”, one of our nesting blocks, and an Observation model Humble Bumble Home to them to be displayed in an upcoming entomological exhibit opening this summer. If you should happen to be in Washington DC at the Smithsonian Natural History Building, please take a picture of our products on display. We would be eternally grateful to get a good negative.


Master Gardner International Conference

Brian will be one of the presenters at this huge conference in Sacramento CA, in July. Over two thousand Master Gardeners are scheduled to attend. His topic will be “Native Bees. Pollinators for your Backyard”. If you are attending the conference be sure to come by and say hello.


Osmia Rufa Found

Brian just returned from the canals of France and Germany where he and his wife share an old Dutch canal boat with nine other families. The annual spring work party was moving the barge from Nancy in France to the Mosel River in Germany. Along the way he noticed a dark hairy bee investigating cracks and holes in the masonry of a lock house. As the water lowered in the lock Brian was chasing the bee with a handy wine glass. Success!, the bee was caught before the lock gates opened and he scrambled down the ladder to the boat with bee and glass in hand. They are the size of an Orchard Mason, with heavier hair and with a distinct red color. This bee is found throughout Europe and has a life history very similar to that of O. lignaria. It will be added to our bee display box so if you should see us at the garden show or elsewhere ask to see Osmia rufa.


To Bee Mecca

This spring I finally made the pilgrimage to Logan Utah to visit with Phil Torchio and visit the storied USDA Bee Biology and Sytematics Lab. Phil and I have corresponded and communicated about bees for five years. He has given me invaluable aid and information, critiqued my book “The Orchard Mason Bee” and been unfailing in his assistance and yet I had never met him face to face. Dr. Torchio, as expected, was gracious and generous with his time and knowledge and I came away astounded at the depth and detail of his knowledge of Osmia lignaria in particular and bees in general.


Ceratina, A New Backyard Bee

During the winter, I had a fascinating visit from Steve Dupuy from Twisp in Eastern Washington. He introduced me to a tiny jet black almost hairless bee that he had found nesting in the pithy center of plants such as elderberry and mountain laurel. A phone call to the Logan lab quickly identified the bee as Ceratina, a widely spread family of tiny pith nesters. Logan referred us to the Ceratina expert, Professor Emeritus Howell V. Daly at the University of California, Berkeley who told us we are dealing with either Ceratina acantha or Ceratina nanula, “ both of which are widespread in the Western US from southern Canada to Mexico.” He further instructs us that they visit a wide variety of flowers for pollen and nectar and nest in the dead stems of mustard, elderberry, blackberry etc. The bees burrow several inches into the pith making a tunnel about 1/16th of an inch in diameter. In the back of the tunnel they branch off into a nesting chamber and there make six or seven cells each with a food provision and an egg. The eggs are laid in the early spring so that is when to hang bundles of dried pithy twigs in your garden. When the searching females find them you will know because of the tiny holes in one end of the exposed pith. The hatchlings will operate from the natal tunnel during the summer and through the next winter living with Mama all winter long. In the spring they venture forth to mate and find their own nesting twig. We are still learning about them but believe it is safe to say that some member of the Ceratina family lives in each of our States. The species that I have found is common to the entire Pacific Coast. Keep your eyes out for a tiny 3/8 inch jet black and shiny bee that has a body not unlike an ant. That’s Ceratina.


We’ve Been Stung

For years now we have been telling people we have never been stung by an Orchard Mason. No more! This spring Lisa was walking by her busy colony of Orchard Masons wearing a loose fitting, long sleeved blouse. A busy lady flew from the nesting hole just as Lisa passed by and they collided inside Lisa’s open sleeve. Lisa swatted at her sleeve and tried to shake the gal out. Alarmed by the sudden interruption of flight and the confinement our harried bee stung her on the upper arm. Lisa reports that it was about like a small prick with a pin, some minor irritation for about five minutes and then only a tiny red bump to show for the encounter. She saw the bee fly off unscathed. Remember, unlike the Honey Bee, most bees sting with an unbarbed hypodermic needle and thus are free to fly off about their business none the worse for the experience.


Pollinating Pears

Have you ever wondered why pears are less attractive to bees than apples and other fruits? Phil Torchio explained it to me. Pear nectar has a much higher sugar content than other fruits. It is so sugary in fact that it is frequently gummy and the proboscis of a bee cannot suck up the sticky substance.

In very wet winters and springs it is more liquid and you are apt to have larger pear crops in those years simply because the bees find the runnier nectar more easily harvested.


Cool Bees

Last issue in “Orchard Masons on Ice” we urged you to get your bees out of refrigeration within twelve months of the date their eggs were laid or face high rates of mortality. NOW LETS DISCUSS when you should put them into refrigeration. Bees enter hibernation with an accumulation of fat bodies which will sustain them during the winter. Like a bear, their metabolism continues during hibernation and they slowly consume those fat bodies. Their metabolism increases as their storage temperature rises. The metabolic rate decreases when storage temperature decreases. If hibernation temperatures are too high the bees will consume all of their stored fat and starve to death before emergence, or they can become so weak that when the signal to emerge comes they will not have the energy necessary to dig out of the cocoon and nesting cell. In a perfect world the bees would be kept at 36 to 38 degrees F. from Oct. 1st to emergence. The closer your fall/winter average temperature is to 36, the better your bees will do. In a warm fall such as that experienced by the intermountain West in 1996 weak bees or high mortality will be experienced because they consumed too much of their winter fat during that warm October. Refrigeration is the answer for those of you that live in warm winter climates. Here in Western Washington we get annual crops of vigorous bees simply by putting them in our unheated garage each winter.