Eric Mader from the Xerces Society in Portland, OR, contacted me in May. He explained that "Xerces has some funding (through a national NRCS grant) to work with various specialty crop producers in different regions of the country to develop bee habitat on their farms. For the most part this consists of restoring native flowering plants that compliment crop bloom times by providing additional pollen and nectar resources.
"We have some additional funds to field test this same strategy with a berry grower here in western Oregon and Washington, and I wanted to check with you to see if this might be a useful opportunity to compliment your existing Osmia aglaia project?"
Naturally, I suggested that the Sturm Farm might be interested in participating, but it wasn't until my visit to the Sturm Farm in June that I was able to arrange for Don and Eric to meet. Fortunately Eric was available on short notice to come out to Corbett the afternoon of June 16.
It turns out that Don already has an NRCS grant for wildlife plantings, so the Xerces grant will supplement it and provide some guidance on the most suitable bee-friendly plants. Don had a meeting at 1pm that afternoon with the local NRCS representative, and then he hurried back to the farm to meet Eric at 3pm. Eric showed up with another Xerces staff member, plant ecologist Brianna Borders. By then the clouds had cleared and the sun was out. Don loaded us into his truck for a quick tour of his 140 acres of berries, including all of the O. aglaia shelters.
Here we are at Jim Cane's central bee shelter near the marion berries. Don is on the right in white shirt; Eric is in the center with Brianna behind him, and my husband John is on the left. Notice that we moved the bee nests from the pallets on the right to the new wood shelter. If the bees had been active this would not have been a good idea, because they would not have found the new nest location. But since the bees were not yet active, it was a good time for the move.
Don and Eric decided that this location would be the best place on the farm for bee-friendly plantings. It's central location will make it accessible to bees from other parts of the farm, and this open area will be easy to cultivate. in preparation for planting.
In addition to checking out the nest sites for O. aglaia, we spent a little time seeing who was visiting the black raspberry. There seemed to be far fewer bumble bees in the afternoon than in the morning, when it was overcast and cold. I had collected a few of the bumble bees that I saw in the morning, and Eric identified the more common species as either Bombus melanopygus or mixta, and the less common species as B. vosnesenskii (see photo of this species in Part 2 of the posts on black raspberry bloom).
We also noticed a neat hole at the end of a prunned raspberry cane. Eric used his pen knife to slit the cane open, and there we found a couple of Ceratina sp., the small carpenter bee. This genus makes it's nest by burrowing into pithy stems such as Rubus canes and dead common mullein stems. One has to cut the stems so the pith is accessible to the bees. After creating a nest with a series of offspring cells in the stem, the mother Ceratina bee guards the entrance of the nest and periodically checks on her developing offspring, according to a thesis from University of Georgia in the 1970s. There were two bees in this tunnel, and not much of a nest, so I suspect that these bees were just beginning to nest. Don says that he leaves the prunned canes in the black raspberry but not other berry varieties. I recommended that he cut the brown stems of last year's common mullein stalks that are found around the edge of the farm so there are more nesting sites for Ceratina. There are some in the Himalayan blackberry patch where Jim Cane's mail tote shelters are located. Ceratina is probably a good raspberry pollinator, and it would be great to increase their populations.
Hopefully Eric and Don are moving forward on this project. Maybe we can get some photos of the site as it is planted on this blog. Eric is also hoping that we can have a farm field day next spring to showcase the bee plantings and alternative bees.