Orchard growers have been utilizing honey bees to pollinate their crops for years. Honey bees have been working hard and doing a good job but they are declining (to learn more about the bee decline check out this post). Recently growers have been searching for alternative pollinators to supplement the traditional honey bees.
We have been working with commercial orchards in California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and Utah to create healthy bee practices and better crops. Growers have found improved pollination -determined by increase in crop yield as well as a growing population of native bees in their bee houses. Best of all they have found that using solitary bees like the Blue Orchard Mason Bee are a more cost effective solution than Honey Bees alone (to find out more about the differences between solitary bees and honey bees click here).
We will go over the solitary bee set up and demonstrate just how easy it is to use solitary bees in your orchard.
The set up is generally the same for a commercial orchard as it is for the backyard grower just on a much larger scale. There’s a “bee house” (place to release the bees and nesting materials), nesting materials, pollen source, and a clay source.
Due to the size of the area needing to be pollinated and the fact that solitary bees usually stay with in 100 yards of their nesting area it is necessary to have multiple nesting areas through out the orchard. We’ve found it best to have a large bee house in the center of the orchard like a hub and then smaller nesting sites in the periphery.
Bee Incubator: For the back yard grower we recommend leaving your bees in tubes or putting the bee cocoons in the top section of your bee house to finish developing and emergence. For the large orchard grower we use a plastic tubing. This allows for adequate protection of the bee cocoons and accounts for the large quantities of bees that are being released.
Nesting Materials: Due to the quantity of bees and the materials we use for bee houses we suggest using laminates for nesting material. They provide protection and a great place for the females to lay their eggs. To read more about nesting materials click here.
48 Hole Laminate
pollen source: That’s the part we don’t provide A large orchard in bloom has ample pollen for solitary bees as well as honey bees. We do recommend planting wildflowers along the unused areas of the orchards to attract more pollinators and allow variation of pollen source. Monocultures (all one crop) provide blossoms all at one time; planting variation allows the bees to have a pollen source if they are still alive after the blossoms are gone. The longer the bees live the more offspring they’ll produce for next season.
Clay Source: Mason bees require a clay source for making cells and plugging up their tubes. We suggest digging a spot for clay near the central house and having a container of clay near each peripheral house.
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