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.