WINTER 1998/1999 – VOLUME 7


The Grapevine Letters From Customers
Aphid Eating Wasps The Giant Resin Bee
Bumblebee Success Stories Mason Bees in the Refrigerator
Big Bees, Big Flowers Tim Wahl’s Nest Guards
Osmia Atriventris Seattle and SF Garden Shows
BRING BACK THE BEES Wonderful New Poster Available
Woodpeckers Strike Again Identifying Bees
A Great Nesting Year for Bees


Volume 9 (Year 2000) Volume 8 (Winter 1999/2000)
Volume 6 (December 1997) Volume 5 (June 1997)
Volume 4 (August 1996) Volume 3 (October 1995)

The Grapevine

It’s been almost a year since we printed an Urban Farmer. We have lots of new information for you and some wonderful new bee products. Most importantly, we have started a campaign to heighten awareness of the pollination crisis facing North America. We call it “Bring Back the Bees”. We will be using that as our marketing and educational theme for the foreseeable future because we believe that home gardeners can make a difference by propagating bees in their back yards. Please spread the word and help us “Bring Back the Bees”.

With this edition we are including our 1998/1999 catalog. By printing both on a web press and mailing them together we are able to send you both at about the former cost of the Urban Farmer alone. Our mailing list is getting so large however, that the Urban Farmer is getting awfully expensive. We will continue to send the Urban Farmer to those who have purchased an item from us since January of 1998 and to all of you that will let us know that you want it. If you have not purchased from us since Jan. 1998 and still wish to receive the Urban Farmer you must either purchase something before our next edition or write or e-mail us confirming your address and your desire to remain on the mailing list.


Letter From Our Customers

Marilyn Klose e-mailed “We purchased a Humble Bumble Home from your company at the Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. We have a thriving “hive” but some questions. Can they all exist in such a tiny space? It seems as if it is overflowing already”. Congratulations! they will probably regulate their population to the space available. Sometimes they will chew down the unused basement portion of the comb lowering it for more room.

“There are mites, will they get into the house”. Bumblebee colonies attract several species of nest associates that live off the residue of the colony. I doubt that they will enter your house, they are interested in what they can find in the bumblebee house. “Our hive is in our house hooked up to the outside by a tube provided by you. Great, you have an observation house. The plastic sub-lid allows you to watch the bees and yet keep them in their house and out of your house. ” Do some bees die during the summer?” Yes, an individual worker only lives about three weeks. Only the queen lives the entire summer. “When is the time to find the females out in the spring? We felt we were just lucky to find one resting on the house in the sun one of the last days in Feb”. Different species have different emergence times. Start watching in early February when you see the first blossoms. “What do we use for nesting material for the next year?” Your Humble Bumble Home came with upholsterers’ cotton. You can find this at most sewing and craft stores. Dryer lint will also work fine. Do not use long fibered medicinal cotton, the bees get tangled in it.

Here’s E-mail from Sharon Collman “I thought you’d like to know that the Friday after your lecture my mom called frantically to say that wasps were infesting her garage. They were small red rumped bumblebees. I netted a bunch and caught quite a few using the glass jar technique you advocated. They did indeed land before crawling into a crack so it was pretty easy. After I got most of them I pulled out an old rug mom had stored. I found a bit of wax and some bees clinging when I unrolled it. There were no little wax jugs so I went back and found a small nest with some bees clinging. With long tongs I scooped it into my new Humble Bumble Observation Home with bees still clinging. We corked the opening and put the lid in place and put it all into the fridge. When it had chilled down, I poured in each of the individuals caught by net and jar, which had been chill’n. They were successfully transferred to my property down the street where we uncorked it after dark. They lived for much of the summer”. Way to go Sharon.


New Discovery, Aphid Eating Wasps That You Can Raise In Your Garden

TWe are constantly amazed at the diversity of life in our small urban backyard. This spring I installed one of our observation nesting blocks on the garden house wall. The observation house has three sizes of holes. The two larger holes were quickly filled by the Orchard Masons. The tiny 1/8th-inch holes remained clear. In June, when the weather warmed, I noticed that the three tiny holes had been sealed with a clear gummy substance. I opened the observation port and to my amazement found the hole divided into four cells. Each cell was stuffed full of aphids. Aha! I immediately knew the answer. The aphid hunter was a tiny wasp that stings aphids, not to , but to paralyze them. It places them into a nesting cell, lays its egg among them and seals up the cell. Of course when the egg becomes a larvae the paralyzed aphids are doomed to a grisly death, being eaten alive. The clever mother wasp has stung each aphid very carefully in the nerve center of its thorax. The aphid is paralyzed. It will live and not decompose until the larvae get around to eating them. Lets just hope an aphid is not capable of realizing its fate as it lays there unable to move, waiting.

A little research determined that this effective aphid assassin is a species of the genus Passaloecus. It is less than 1/2 inch long, entirely black and entirely harmless to man. It is a solitary wasp and is found all across the country and over much of the world. It feeds its larvae only aphids. You can breed up a nice population of these aphid killers by installing our new “Aphid Eater” nesting block in sunny locations in your garden. Control the aphid population the natural way.

A wonderful surprise developed several weeks after the Aphid Eaters had begun. When the warm summer temperatures really settled in I was amazed and delighted to find large numbers of a new bee species nesting in the tiny holes of the Aphid Eater block. This active little bee also sealed the filled nesting hole with what appeared to be coniferous pitch. Dozens of them were soon bringing bright yellow pollen to the nesting hole from the flowers and vegetables in our garden. I let them fill a great many nesting holes before I caught a few specimens to send off for identification. At this writing I still do not know what kind of bee they are but I know they were doing a great job on our squash and zucchini.

The Giant Resin Bee

A new immigrant has come to our shores. Wyatt Mangum, an extension entomologist at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg VA. Reports that this solitary Asian bee was accidentally introduced into the Southeastern US several years ago. It is not known how it got here but probably in a hole in imported lumber or dunnage. It was first noticed in North Carolina in June 1994.

The “Giant Resin Bee”, Megachile sculpturalis Smith, does no known damage, nests in holes that it must find and is not defensive so like most solitary bees it will probably be a good neighbor and an addition to North American pollination forces. No one knows what effect it will have on native bee populations. Watch for it at your nesting holes. They have a large cylindrical body ranging to almost one inch in length in the female. The head and abdomen are black while dense yellowish-brown hairs cover its thorax. The wings are dark but still transparent. They have large jaws and when at rest hold their wings in a “V” position over the top of the body. Small females can nest in a 5/16th-inch mason bee hole but they are commonly seen using the abandoned larger holes of carpenter bees. They seal their nests with resin and sap collected from trees mixed with bits of wood and sometimes earth. Another example of how man changes the earth’s Eco-system inadvertently.


Bumblebee Success Stories

We had wonderful success attracting bumblebees to our nesting houses,”the Humble Bumble Home”. At Knox Cellars I installed a HBH under the protecting eave on the north side of the garage just above one of the automatic doors. By April we had a thriving colony of little red-tailed bumbles (Bombus flavifrons flavifrons) enjoying their wooden home. It was an immense pleasure to watch those husky little bees speeding to and from the entrance hole and to recognize them toiling among the blossoms in the garden. Daughter Erin simply placed a “home” on the railing of a second story porch. The same species of bumblebee moved into her “Humble Bumble Home” and were thriving until a roving band of raccoons found the colony one night and raided it for the stored nectar and the growing larvae. Lisa, at Knox Cellars South in Redmond had no lodgers in her HBH but did have a large colony that occupied a birdhouse high up on the North wall of her family home. Providing housing for bumblebees does work. Give it a try, but be sure to put the house on the north side of a building in the continual shade.


How Long Can Orchard Masons survive in the Refrigerator?

As many of you know from recent contact with us, in mid June Lisa moved her home and office a few miles down the road from Issaquah WA to Redmond WA.. As part of the moving process she had to clean out her bee storage refrigerator. In the bottom shelf were some old slices of bees left over from the spring season. Previous experiments with refrigerating bees had taught us that keeping bees past late March increased mortality rates by 70 to 80% and thus we don’t ship bees past that time. These slices fell into that too late to ship category. The slices were tossed in a cardboard box and set out in the garage to await the next trip to the dump. The next morning, Lisa found a few males crawling on the hood of her car. Checking out the box, she found a few more bees crawling in the box and decided to split all the slices to see what was still alive. It turns out that most of the slices contained live bees. All told she estimates that at least 75% of her bees were still alive in mid-June. Megachile frigida is a Ground Nester

You may recall several issues ago I wrote about finding a bee in my garden that seemed to have big feather mitts on its front legs. I think I likened them to first baseman’s mitts. I sent one off to be identified and learned that it was a leafcutter named Megachile frigida. This summer I finally found one bringing large pieces of leaf to it’s nest. The nest was a hole dug into the damp sand between pavers at the entrance to Knox Cellars. I watched with fascination as it made several trips in the hot sun with a cut piece of leaf held beneath it with mandibles and feet. The leaf was grasped on each side and bent as it was carried. The bee then landed and tugged the leaf down into the hole in the sand.

Big Bees, Big Flowers

I just learned that the USDA is doing research on a big Megachile bee that very effectively pollinates sunflowers. It is a leafcutter that is almost 3/4 inches long and will nest in the 5/8th inch nesting tubes that we call the “system” tubes. They are active during the hot weather in which sunflowers blossom. Watch for a large native bee on your sunflowers next summer. Try to make notes of their appearance and behavior. If you will share that information with me I will attempt to learn more and let you know what I find in a subsequent newsletter.

Tim Wahl’s Nest Guards

A neighbor who lives just over the hill told me about some interesting bee residents in his garden. We live in country that was covered by glaciers during the last ice age. The glaciers moved from north to south scouring the tops of the hills and depositing ground sand and dirt on the south slope of the hills while leaving bare rock on top. As a result I garden in ten inches of tough clay soil on top of solid sandstone at the top of the hill. Tim, just a block away but down over the crest of the hill enjoys deep sandy soil bequeathed him by the glacier. Tim is an amateur botanist and his garden emulates a natural prairie ecosystem peculiar to a few locations here in the marine Pacific Northwest. He has collected many interesting native plants and grasses that are unique to that particular ecosystem and his garden is filled with the scent and sight of these native plants. He even practices periodic burning of the grasses to mimic the natural world. In several rather large patches in this interesting garden are colonies of a small brown ground-nesting bee. The bees fly only when the weather is quite warm. They are clearly colonial. Their holes are closely spaced in the sandy nesting patches. Several bees seem to use one hole and they appear to take turns as sentries at the entrance hole when they are flying actively. When the temperature goes down below comfortable flying temperatures they simply pull sand into the hole to seal it and retire into their holes. They very effectively disappear into the earth leaving no trace. I regret to report that I have not yet identified them. I hope to do that this winter and if I am successful I will report to you at a later date.


Osmia Atriventris

Our friend Rex Welland who lives in Victoria BC Canada, reports that he is cultivating a population of a small native bee he has identified as Osmia atriventris . Atriventris seems to prefer a 3/16-inch hole and does a great job on Rex’s raspberries. Rex’s experience is further evidence that if you hang out various sized nesting holes in your garden you can expect fascinating surprises. This bee watching technique works wherever you might be in this world. I recently got a photo email from Franklin Byrnes, showing seven species of Osmia bees found in Italy. In the interest of trivia I report that they were Osmia bicolor, Osmia parietina, Osmia xantromelana, Osmia aurulenta, Osmia pilicornis, Osmia Coerulescens and Osmia rufa. The latter two bees I have mentioned in past Urban Farmers and have in my collection of pinned bees. I believe all of the mentioned bees are hole nesters.

Knox Cellars at Garden Shows in Seattle and San Francisco

We are doing two big garden shows this spring!

February17 through 21 1999 we will be at The Northwest Flower & Garden Show in Seattle. This will be our eighth year at this great event in Seattle. The third largest garden show in America must surely be number one in quality. As usual our booth is number 109 in the marketplace. Be sure to stop by and say hello.

March 25 through 28th Knox Cellars will be in Northern California at the San Francisco Garden Show! We look forward to meeting our California customers and introducing ourselves to many new friends at this exciting and growing garden show. Come to the Cow Palace and say hello. We will bring bees, books, and all of our bee products ready to get you off to a great start with native bees.

BRING BACK THE BEES Comes to Retail Stores

Last month we delivered the first of our new retail displays to garden nurseries and nature stores in the Pacific Northwest. These charming displays contain all of our products including coupons good for a start of Orchard Mason Bees. We hope to spread the word about native bees all across the nation by installing our displays in quality garden and nature stores in every state. If you think your favorite retailer would be interested please tell him about us. We are eager to send him information. Thanks for helping to “Bring Back the Bees”.


Wonderful New Poster Available

We hired a nationally known artist, Jack Molloy, to design and paint a sign for our “Bring Back the Bees” retail display. He did a marvelous job and we are being asked for copies of it where ever we show it. We have decided to offer it as a poster to our nature loving friends. We will ship you this lovely 12 by 18-inch poster depicting nine of America’s native pollinators for $10.00 postage included. You will want to frame it and hang it in the den.


Woodpeckers Strike Again

This time we have pictures of the hungry little robbers. Brad Edwards has propagated a large population of Orchard Masons at his interesting urban farm. This year he volunteered to grow some bees for us so he took a large number of the 78 hole nesting blocks in which we trap bees and hung them on the south wall of his green house. Late in the season, the blocks were almost completely filled when the downy woodpeckers found them. Before Brad knew it they had knocked the mud plugs from about half of the nest holes. Brad took a snapshot of one of the culprits hanging on the front of the nesting block licking its chops. Brad is going to have to build a chicken wire screen that will allow the bees in but keep the woodpeckers out.


Identifying Bees

I have promised myself that this winter I will learn to identify bees. In the past I have leaned on the kindness of a professional entomologist with the USDA who has accepted several boxes of pinned bees and returned them to me with minute labels revealing their genus and species. I am now the proud owner of two fine books, which contain identification keys. The Biology and External Morphology of Bees by Stephen, Bohart and Torchio, as well as the Bee Genera of North and Central America by Michener, McGinley and Danforth. There is going to be some heavy going. This old brain will have to learn words like absissa, vertex, tergum, gradulus, and what is meant by the description of a female with a dark, beveled, pseudopygidial area. That kind of language might get you into trouble in a bar, but it is the way entomologists describe bees. Once you understand the language then you “key out” the identity of the bee by choosing one of a long series of two descriptive choices. Each choice leads you to another set of choices, which constantly narrow down the possibilities. You go on and on until finally your choices have led you to the name of the bee. If you were keying out the identity of an elephant the first set of choices might be1. The ears hang like great flaps or 2. The ears are erect and pointed. Obviously you would choose #1. The key then directs you to a successive string of double choices eventually pointing to elephant. If you have found yourself getting more and more involved in bees, you might want to get a key for yourself.


A Great Nesting Year for Bees

We had a perfect spring for Orchard Mason Bees this year with three warm and sunny weeks just at the peak of their activity. I am sure some of those busy ladies were completing two cells each day. As a consequence we have lots of bees to share with you and your friends. We have been shipping bees since November 1st. Get your orders in early. You might consider sending a starter set of bees and the Orchard Mason Bee book to friends as a truly unique gift that will also help Bring Back the Bees.