Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Columbia Gorge bee habitat

Driving home from Corbett along the Columbia Gorge on Saturday I was struck by what great Osmia lignaria habitat there is along the highway. Big leaf maple was in full bloom - the lime green trees in the photo on the left. O. lignaria loves it. It has tons of pollen in small light green flowers in long racemes. I think it also has some nectar, but I'm not sure.

Plus there were periodic wild cherry or plum trees scattered along the side of the road all the way from Corbett to Hood River. Bees are probably nest limited in this area. I'll bet a transect of bee nests along the highway would yield lots of bees, if anyone has a few cocoons to seed the area wants to take the time and the mileage to set them up and take them down.

That reminds me; any of our readers from western Oregon, Northern California, and western Washington can be on the lookout for O. aglaia during cane fruit bloom. They are smaller than the blue orchard bee, and come in metallic blue, green and bronze colors. Hopefully we'll have good photos later this season. So far we haven't any proof that this species is present in Washington, so we will be very interested if anyone can prove that they are there. Good photos will help, but ultimately we'll need either adults collected from the flowers or cocoons from nests with good location records. We know they visit Himalayan Blackberry, so that's a good place to look for them during bloom.

Placing trap nests

In addition to placing our main bee shelter in the field this past Saturday, we also placed small trap-nest Binderboard around the periphery of the fields to see if we can attract Osmia aglaia or other cane fruit pollinators to manageable nests. The bees that use our trap nests will be added to our main managed population next year.

The first place that we visited was a neighbor's barn on the south side of the Sturm's field. We had a few Binderboard there in 2007, and we attracted Osmia lignaria to nest, plus some other species. It's a great place for O. lignaria because south of the barn is a small grove of wild cherry or plum trees, in full bloom last Saturday. Plus, the barn is just the sort of environment where twig nesting bees look for tunnels in wood. This time we introduced some additional O. lignaria cocoons, as well as one 98-hole Osmia Binderboard and one 63-hole Binderboard facing the blooming trees. With any luck, the bees will emerge soon and forage on the cherry, then move over to the raspberry field when it comes into bloom. The photo shows the east side of the barn. We put two small Binderboard, one 14-hole Osmia Binderboard for O. lignaria and one 39-hole leafcutter Binderboard for O. aglaia, on the top left corner of the pile of wood. Click on the photo to see it full resolution., You can just make out the angle of the metal roofs of the Binderboard. They are far enough from the released bees that we can hope they will be used by the native bee population.

Next we drove around the west side of the farm, and left a few small Binderboard on fence posts near large patches of Himalayan Blackberry just outside the farm boundary. That's Rosie in the red plaid jacket putting hooks into a rotting tree stump. Tree trunks are often a good place for trap nests, because beetles attack the tree in the first few years after it dies. However, this tree trunk was in a more advanced stage of decomposition; perhaps too decomposed to attract nesting bees. We'll see.
Joyce Mills (in blue jacket) helped place a Binderboard on a fence post. We put 39-hole leafcutter Binderboard at all of the sites where we stopped, 6 in all. We also put a 14-hole Osmia Binderboard on the tree trunk above and on one of the fence posts near a flowering cherry tree (last photo - flowering tree in the middle right of the frame).

We left the Sturms with 6 more 39-hole and 2 more 14-hole Binderboard to take to their farm in Nahalem. Rosie put most of them out on Sunday. Thanks, Rosie!

Monday, April 27, 2009


Welcome. This blog will follow the progress of our WSARE project to develop the native bee, Osmia aglaia, for pollination of cane fruit, raspberries and blackberries.

Our two year, Farmer-Rancher Grant was awarded to Don Sturm, a 3th generation berry farmer. His family has run Sturm Berry Farm (http://www.sturmsberryfarm.com/) in Corbett OR for 50 years. He and wife Rosie have 140 acres of raspberries, blackberries, black raspberries and blueberries in Corbett, and they have leased an additional 150 acres in Nahalem, OR near the coast for black raspberry production.

We want to find out if the solitary bee, Osmia aglaia, is a cost effective, practical, and sustainable addition to honey bees for cane fruit pollination. Increasing problems with honey bees such as colony collapse disorder, varroa mites, diseases, pesticides and movement of bee colonies around the country has taken a toll on honey bee health and availability for pollination, and has increased pollination costs for many growers.

The technical advisor for the project is Dr. Karen Strickler (http://www.pollinatorparadise.com/), a pollination consultant who specializes in solitary bees. Solitary bees do not form a colony like honey bees do, with the queen laying eggs and workers foraging. Rather, each female solitary bee makes her own nest, forages for pollen and nectar, and lays her own eggs. Some solitary bees in the family Megachildae, including the genus Osmia, nest in tunnels in wood, and their populations can be managed for crop pollination.

Osmia aglaia is found in western Oregon and Northern California foraging on Himalyan Blackberry. Dr. James Cane of the USDA ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Lab in Logan UT has shown that Osmia aglaia is an efficient pollinator of raspberries and blackberries. He believes it “could be a sustainably managed, economical bee for cultivated cane fruits.” (HortScience 40(6)1705-1708, 2005) He has been researching this bee and trying to increase their populations for commercial use on several berry farms in Oregon, Starting with a few thousand in 2005 he now has 21,000. Dr. Cane estimates this is enough to pollinate about 20 acres of the approximately 11,000 acres of cane fruits growing in Oregon (USDA NASS statistics.).

Dr. Strickler was able to obtain a small population of several hundred O. aglaia to introduce to Sturm Berry Farm in 2007 from the grower who originally supplied Dr. Cane. In addition, she visited the farm in spring 2006 and placed a number of small nest blocks around the periphery of the farm to see what native bees are already present in hopes that some of them could improve pollination. About 2,600 O. aglaia bees were retrieved in the fall of 2007. They were reintroduced to the field in 2008, but only 1,500 bees were retrieved in fall 2008.

Using native solitary bees for pollination fits well into the sustainable agriculture practices on the Sturm farm. The Sturms do not use any insecticides on their berries. Beneficial insect populations have been sufficient in the absence of insecticides to control insect pests. The lack of insecticides makes the farm a favorable place for pollinators as well. Because they offer pesticide-free berries, they have developed a large customer base who we hope will appreciate native solitary bees for pollination.

The photo was taken in March, 2007, when Dr. Strickler first visited Sturm Berry Farm to introduce O. aglaia, and to set out trap nests around the periphery of the farm. One of our Binderboard nests was attached to a fence post. Posing for the camera were clockwise from bottom left: Glen Mills, Don Sturm, John Vinson, and Jerry Mills.

Our Project Begins!

We visited Sturm Berry Farm on Saturday, April 25, 2009, to choose a location for our main bee shelter where we will introduce the O. aglaia that were collected last year. We were joined by Mike Carter (left in the photo) who has volunteered to help us set up a webcam to observe the bee shelter and bloom so that those of us who are not in Corbett can advise the Sturms about managing the bees, and others who are interested can also watch. Mike has a company appropriately called "Beeline Services", and he has experience with security cameras, IT systems, and photography, as well as an interest in bee keeping. It's the perfect combination of skills for our project. Mike is hoping to put together a system involving a solar-powered wireless net cam.

At Rosie Sturm's suggestion, we set up our bee shelter under one of the powerlines that runs through the middle of the farm. The shelter faces south, and Mike plans to attach the netcam to a post just south of the shelter, looking north.
In the photo left you can see the white roof of the Sturm's barn about 400 ft away to the northeast. The Sturms have a computer and router in an office in the barn. Mike plans to install a "rubber duck" on the top of an electric pole just outside the barn which will pick up wireless signals from the webcam.

We left 4 large Binderboard nests inside the shelter, ready for introduction of Osmia aglaia.
The bees are warming up in the Sturm's home, where they will experience higher night temperatures than in the field. This should speed their emergence. If the raspberry is in bloom when the bees are ready to emerge, Rosie will move them to the bee shelter. If the bees start to emerge before bloom, she will put the cocoons back in the refrigerator to delay emergence for a few days .