WINTER 1999/2000 – VOLUME 8


*The Buzz *Second Edition Ready
*A New Bee – Heriades Carinata *Another Bee – Osmia Californica
*Smithsonian Magazine visits Knox Cellars *You’re Never Too Old
*Another way to Raise Orchard Masons – Hachi Ashi *A New Gift of Pollination in a New Package
*The “System” Makes the Big Time *System Tubes vs. Wood Blocks
*Poet’s Corner *Of Birds And Bugs
*Competing Queens *Natural Selection During Pollination
*Pollination For Pay *Beware the Nectar Thief


Volume 9 (Year 2000) Volume 7 (Winter 1998/1999)
Volume 6 (December 1997) Volume 5 (June 1997)
Volume 4 (August 1996) Volume 3 (October 1995)

The Buzz

Thanks to all of you great customers, 1999 has been a terrific year for Knox Cellars. We have seen our retail display, which was introduced to a few quality garden centers and nurseries in the fall of 1998, grow to be accepted by eighty-four stores as of the date of this writing. Our products will soon be introduced to England, Ireland and Scotland through an agreement with Agralan Garden Products of Wilts, England. We have introduced new bee propagation products to the market such as The “System” nesting tubes, which are rapidly becoming the standard for Orchard Mason propagation across the nation. A second edition of “The Orchard Mason Bee” has been published and we are introducing two new species of bees to our line of backyard pollinators. To top it all off and adding fuel to the fire, we have continued to be interviewed and quoted or have our products shown on gardening talk shows and in print media such as Smithsonian Magazine. Read the article later in this newsletter about Smithsonian and Ciscoe Morris.

Second Edition Ready and at a Special Price

It has been seven years since we first published Brian’s book, The Orchard Mason Bee. In each of those years we have learned more about these wonderful bees. It became very obvious from customer questions and feedback that we needed to pass this information on in the form of a second edition, so this summer, Brian put pen to paper and did just that. We have just received it from the printer. It is more than twice as large as the first book, (144 pages), completely re-designed, more illustrations, and lots more information about the bees and their propagation. It even has a new cover, painted by the author. We know you will love it and want to add it to your nature library. As a valued customer, we want to offer the second edition of The Orchard Mason Bee to you at a special price. The new book has a retail price of $12.00. You may it until February 1, 2000 at the price of the old book $9.95. Just tear off the part of the “Urban Farmer” with your name and address on it and send it to us with your order form from the attached catalog.

A New Bee to Extend Your Pollination Into the Summer Months – Heriades Carinata

For two summers now we have been watching a tiny little bee not much more than 1/4 inch long nesting in the 1/8th inch holes of our Aphid Eater Blocks. The bee is Heriades carinata, a tiny dark bee that carries pollen in its scopa under the abdomen. It is a hot weather bee, not appearing from its hole until the temperature has reached 70 degrees F. We are calling it the “Onion Bee” because it forages on the large blossom ball of the leeks, which we let go to seed in our garden. We also is completely non- aggressive, ignoring your presence which means it is active when Masons are not, and we hope will help the vegetable garden pollination. We don’t know too much yet about their feeding preferences but hopefully those of you who are interested will buy a start of Heriades carinata and help with that see them on Cecil Brunner roses, marjoram, and oregano. In early July and lasts until the pool of knowledge The Onion Bee uses pitch from coniferous trees to seal early September research. Please report your observations to us. Perhaps together we can add to its cells. This bee around the nesting holes. In Western Washington it appears of this interesting little bee. We now have a large enough population to sell a few starter colonies (63 sets). Each is a small slice of wood with five holes containing the hibernating bees behind their plugs of pitch. Attach this to our Aphid block or make one of your own and your are set. Check the catalog if you are interested. First come first served.

Another Bee For Folks West of the Continental Divide – Osmia Californica

For those of who live in the western states, we have another fun bee to help extend your native bee pollination season. Osmia californica is very similar to Osmia lignaria, the Orchard Mason Bee that we know so well, Osmia californica is entirely black, a bit slimmer and longer, and emerges just about the time lignaria is finished. O. californica makes its nest cell in found holes and especially likes the “System” tubes with their paper liners. There is much to be learned about the pollination potential of this bee. It is known to be a collector of pollen from flowers of the Compositae family, the largest floral family, but nothing is known about its interest in pollen from vegetables, berries or fruits. You propagate this bee just as you do the Orchard Mason by putting nesting holes on the sunny southern or eastern walls of buildings. O, californica adds a bit of leaf mulch to the mud with which they delineate their cells so you will be able to distinguish between the plugged holes of each species. We suggest that you try a start, observe their habits closely, send us your observations and we will publish the findings in subsequent Urban Farmers. We are especially interested in their emergence dates and length of nesting and food preferences. We have 100 starts to offer. See the catalog for details. First come, first served.

Smithsonian Magazine visits Knox Cellars

You can imagine how excited Brian was to get a phone call from the Photo Editor of Smithsonian Magazine last summer. She revealed that they were doing an article on “alternative pollinators” for a spring issue, had heard about our “Bring Back the Bees” activities and wanted to send a photographer to shoot pictures. Sure enough, in a week we had a visit from Gary Braach. He flew in, spent an afternoon shooting around the garden, spent the night as a guest of Brian and Marya, shot more film the next morning and was off on a noon flight. Such is the life of a magazine fascinating tales of nature photography at both poles, the jungles of Africa and Central America and many other places. He once spent ten days in a huge tree in Central America, the assignment, photograph every living thing you can find in that tree. We were amazed at the quality of his lenses and cameras and at the quantity of film he shot. We will be watching our spring editions of Smithsonian Magazine very closely. We hope you will too.

You’re Never Too Old

Every once in a while a customer calls who teaches us something important. This happened recently when Lisa received a phone call from Californian, C.T. Atnip. Mr. Atnip is an avid gardener, still learning and experimenting at 93 years of age. He is having trouble pollinating his two pluot trees and wants to try mason bees next spring. He has ordered a strong supply of bees and “Nesters” to accomplish this. We wish him a fruitful millennium spring and many more in the new century and thank him for reminding us that we must never stop learning and questioning. It is truly the elixir of youth.

Another way to Raise Orchard Masons – Hachi Ashi

The word for bee in Japanese is Hachi and the word for reed is Ashi. For generations Japanese orchardists have propagated their native Osmia bee, Osmia cornifrons, in order to pollinate their fruit orchards. They use a bundle of native hollow reeds which have nodes like bamboo, and an average inside diameter very close to 5/16ths. That same reed is a native of our mid-west. Orchard masons take to them very readily, and they are tough enough to repel the monodontomerus wasps’ intrusions. So-o-o-o Knox Cellars is offering you “HACHI ASHI, a bundle of thirty reeds 6 1/4 inches long, tightly bound together with raffia, and with a charming label showing the Kanji (Japanese symbol) for bee. You will find them a charming gift, a bit of visual art for your own garden, and a practical tool for increasing your bee population. Try one- only $8.50. Our supply is limited so don’t delay your order. See the catalog for details.

A New Gift of Pollination in a New Package

We have combined our new cedar “Bee Nester Box, The first edition of The Orchard Mason Bee, One of our “System Nesters” containing 74 nesting tubes and a coupon for a starting set of Orchard Mason bees to make the new “Gift of Pollination”. And we are doing it at the old price of $45.00. Just add $4.30 postage and it can be shipped anywhere in the continental USA in time for Christmas. Complete instructions are included. This is the gift for the gardener who has everything.

The “System” Makes the Big Time

The Nov-Dec issue of Seattle Homes and Life Styles a magazine that features the finest homes and gardens in the Seattle area, has a has a nice article on the home garden of Ciscoe Morris. Cisco is a popular radio garden talk show host on Seattle station K.I.R.O. Included in the layout is a picture of Ciscoe’s mason bee colony nicely housed in six of our “System Nesters” and our Shelters and Shelter Extenders. Nice going Ciscoe!

The Best way to Propagate Mason Bees: System Tubes vs. Wood Blocks

Every day people ask our opinion on the best way to raise mason bees. We are convinced that the “System” nesting tubes are the way to propagate bees for three powerful reasons.

Hygiene, because you change the paper liner each year you avoid the fungus and bacteria that build up in wood or plastic and eventually cause the bees to sicken and die. You also eliminate many parasites and keep mite populations under control. More Females, The optimum sex ratio (1/3rd females) is achieved the pollination and increase your population, deeper holes are better.

Ease of maintenance, If you have ever tried to clean a number of wooden nesting blocks you will appreciate the ease with which the “System” tubes are separated by pulling out the black plastic end plug, sliding out the paper liner filled with bees and inserting a clean replacement liner readying the tube for the next years nest cell building. The liners filled with bees are put out in the bee colony in the spring and when the bees have emerged to nest in the clean tubes the soiled liners are destroyed, along with the mites, fungus and bacteria

Poet’s Corner

The following was sent in by Paul Hovsepian, who credits this doggerel to his roommate, Bill.

There once was a bee named Mason
Who said, “It’s spring! I must hasten!”
He came out of his tree
To find the temp: 43.
And now he’s just cross.
Not pollinatin…

Of Birds And Bugs

The life of a lowly mason bee is not easy. In the last Urban Farmer in Dec. 98, I reported that Brad Edwards lost the mud plugs from all of his wooden nesting blocks to woodpeckers. This year Brad was also using our “Nesters”. He had nine of them completely filled when the woodpeckers attacked again. They knocked out every mud plug but just as last year, they could not get back to the bees. The liners are not too handsome with their front plug gone, but they are full of bees and will work just fine.

The bugs are the greater problem. Phil Torchio tells me that he has identified 32 species of parasites, predators and nest competitors associated with nests of O. lignaria”. Many of you have asked what the small holes that appear in your entrance plugs might mean. are nests of Neither wasp revitalizes holes from which they have emerged and few, if any re-nest in the old nest blocks. The small exit holes can be made by emerging second-generation Monodontomerus or are entrance holes made by young larvae of a predatory beetle (Trichodes). There are, of course, many other insects that could produce holes in nest plugs of O. lignaria.

Competing Queens Help Humble Bumble Homes Get Occupants

A letter from Harry Hattery of Somerville, AL confirmed something I had read in an old book about bumblebees. The challenge is to get a new queen to nest in your Humble Bumble Home. The common technique is to capture a queen and imprison her with food in the Home for not more than three days. Then open the front door and hope she stays. Harry says back in the 60’s he did a lot of experimenting. “Had about 400% better luck when two queens not of the same species were imprisoned three days. Both tend to behave broody. Both often stayed-however- they fuss with each other.” He also used old mouse nests.

Natural Selection During Pollination

Plants have evolved many mechanisms to ensure the best ppollen available “fathers’ their seed. The female components of the flower are made of one or meore egg cells, each inside it’s own chamber or long stalk. When the male pollen lands on the sticky stigma the race is onf or pollen grains to germinate and send their pollen tubes burrowing down to the eggs. The winning tube releases its sperm cell into the ovary where it fertilises the egg, and a seed is set. The weatker losers don’t get to pass on their genes.

Pollination For Pay

Flowers usually pay the insect pollinators that visit them in nectar. The price a flower will pay for pollination bvaries between the species. A foraging insect has to make a net energy gairn for its efforts, or ti will look elsewhere for more lucrative employment. The going rate for butterflies is nectar containing 20-25 percent sugar. This is quite dilute so it can be sucked up by their long proboseces. Bees are more expensive to employ. They insist on 50 percent sugar or higher so they can take the extra back to hive or hole to feed the kids. As a result plants like verbena and buddleja are perfect for butterflies but bees mostly ignore them.

Beware the Nectar Thief

Flowers have developed physical barriers to safeguard the nectar for their chosed pollinators. Concealing sucrose-rich nectar in deep nectaries protects them from losing out to free loaders, insects that feed without pollinating. One species of bumbleee is especially adept at foiling the flower’s plan by biting though the blossom at the nectary and lapping out the nectar without ever entering the blossom. Because they don’t complete the bargain of “nectar for pollination” they are deemed to be “robbing” the flower.