Native Pollinators

Yesterday I attended a short course on Native Pollinators presented by The Xerces Society and held at MOFGA’s education center.  While much of the course seemed restatements of common sense for establishing pollinator habitat (“use less pesticide” being one example) there were some statements that caught my attention.

Just under 250 native pollinators work our wild blueberries.  That does not include the honey bee (which is native to Europe.)  It makes me wonder if a truly agricultural chemical free operation that worked to provide buffer habitat for native pollinators around the blueberry fields, would get adequate pollination without the use of honey bees.

One consideration would have to be the size of the blueberry field as there are ground dwelling bees that would have a tough time surviving bi-annual prunnings, and would have flight distance limitations from buffer habitat.  Perhaps you have pollinator habitats scattered throughout the field.

The big advantage to humans that honey bees have for the pollination of wild blueberries over native pollinators is that honey bees can be managed.  You can flood an area with honey bees and be confident that as long as the weather conditions are conducive to honey bee flight, you’ll achieve adequate pollination.  The key phrase there is “conducive to honey bee flight.”  Today is rainy with the temperature hovering around 50.  Honey Bees are sticking to the hive today whereas some of the native pollinators will be out pollinating.

With a typical monoculture blueberry operation, the honey bee colonies are removed at the end of bloom and removed to pollinate another crop somewhere else.  Native pollinators can’t be moved and depending on individual pollinator concerns, may starve.  So a habitat consisting of a progression of pollen and nectar sources is needed.

At BeeBerry Woods, I think there is plenty of existing native pollinator habitat.  Perhaps it can be augmented with bee blocks for wood dwelling pollinators, but since the vast majority of native pollinators are ground dwelling we don’t need to go crazy putting out blocks.  I do need to think about how I go about pruning the field – presently I mow with a rotary mower – it might not be a bad idea to establish habitat islands within the field.

Of course at present our blueberry field (between 5 and 10 acres in size) is not commercially harvested – though I admit to having fantasies that one day it will.  It is being encroached on by great bee plants – golden rod and field roses – so while I lament the loss of picture perfect blueberry field – I enjoy having the additional food sources for the bees.

This summer I will endeavor to photograph and identify native pollinators around the property and post their pictures here.  That presumes I’ll learn how to post pictures.  One can hope.

test update 1 – queens released

The new colonies were checked 5/14/2012.  The packages were removed from the deep and the space taken up by the package replaced with new frames w/ foundation.  In 7 of the colonies the queens had been released by the bees.  In the 8th the queen was still in her cage until she was directly released.

Syrup is being fed in frame feeders and there looks to be several days of feed remaining in all the colonies.

3 days down, 3 (plus) years to go!

The testing process

The “survivor” bees have their own yard about 1/4 mile from my other bees.  They will initially be installed into new 10 frame deep equipment; a second deep will be added as the colonies require it.  The frames will be wooden with Permadent plastic foundation installed.  Extra wax from my own cappings will be painted onto the frames before they are given to the bees.

The yard the bees are in is within flying distance of commercially managed and pollinated wild blueberry fields.  I counted three sets of hives placed for pollination within three miles of my driveway yesterday.

Local forage for the bees includes Shad, Apple, Brambles, Wild Blueberries, clover, vetch, rosa rugosa, and other plants native to this area.

The bees will be fed light sugar syrup (roughly 1:1 but my measurements are, ahem, course) as they build up.  Once they have finished drawing out the bottom deep and have accumulated what I judge to be a two week reserve of food, the sugar syrup will be discontinued.  In the fall hives that are short of a target winter weight of roughly 120 pounds will be feed heavy syrup.

Winter prep will include an entrance reducer, mouse guard, insulation on top of the inner cover, and wrapping with tar paper.  The bees will be checked in late January/early February for stores and colonies needing supplemental feed will be given fondant.

The test begins

There was a spirited conversation on Bee Source a while ago on the best protocols for dealing with the Varroa Mite.  I found myself getting almost angry at the calm voices who insisted that if you have bees of the correct genetic stock – so called “Survivor Bees” – that no chemical or cultural “treatments” for Varroa are needed – the bees survive/thrive on their own.

My next objection was the commercial availability of these bees – while I’m aware of small scale production of survivors, I wasn’t aware of any large scale producers.  I was steered towards B Weaver Apiaries based in Navasota, Texas.

So packages were ordered, equipment assembled, thoughts prepared on what a test should look like.  There are two questions that I to answer with the test.  The first is an easy one: will the “survivor” bees survive without any chemical applications or cultural practices intended to treat Varroa and Trachael mites, as well as the two variations of Nosema.  The second: will the “survivor” bees makes roughly the same amount of honey as my other traditionally kept bees?

Three years seems to be the general length of time needed to show survivability.  I don’t expect to get any surplus honey this season.  But the second and third…