When Can I Safely Clean Out my Mason Bee Tubes?
Ask the Expert
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Gaye (Oregon) asks — Since I don’t know when my bee tubes were plugged, when can I safely clean the tubes without destroying any cocoons?
Rusty Burlew replies:
In order to care for your mason bees, you need to have some idea when the tubes were filled and capped. If it was in a prior year, the bees inside are most likely dead, so you can discard the tubes and start with a fresh set next year.
If the tubes were filled and capped in spring of this year, you have two choices. You can just store them as they are in a cool, dry place until next spring. No cleaning is necessary. Simply place the tubes where they won’t get excessively hot and where they are protected from predators such as earwigs, wasps, mice, or anything else that might try to eat the bees. Usually a cellar, garage, or shed work just fine. Next spring, during March or April, you can put the tubes outside and the bees will begin to emerge a few weeks later. If you place the tubes inside a hatching box, which is simply a box with one bee-sized hole in it, and place new tubes nearby, you can avoid having to clean tubes because the bees will use the new tubes instead of going inside the hatching box to use the old tubes.
Remember that emptying the tubes and cleaning the cocoons is optional. Some people do it to protect the bees from pollen mites or mold, but other people skip this step entirely. If you choose to empty and clean the tubes, you should do it in the fall once the bees inside are fully developed, usually October or November. These cocoons can be stored just like filled tubes, in a cool and dry place. You do not have to keep them in a refrigerator.
Refrigeration gives you more control over when the bees emerge from their cocoons. This is important if you have fruit trees to pollinate, but if you don’t, you can just let the bees emerge at their natural time.