As we have all heard, honeybees have struggled over the past decade while our reliance on them to pollinate a large share of our food crops continues. Not surprisingly, interest in alternative pollinators has grown with a lot of discussion of native pollinators and habitat enhancement. There has been less attention given to the active management of native pollinators for commercial farming application, but this also has been developing. The leaf cutter bee that is used to pollinate alfalfa seed crops in the state is an example of a native bee that is actively managed to achieve a consistent pollination outcome. This is done not through habitat but through rearing and placement procedures that build up bee numbers, store them during dormancy, and then place them in the fields at the appropriate time. A similar approach is being developed for tree crops with various orchard bee species. Some preliminary field testing has been done in Washington orchards,with a particular interest for cherries and pears. Cool, damp conditions during cherry bloom often reduce activity by honeybees, while orchard bees are very effective pollinators under these conditions. However, they have to be managed!
The Orchard Bee Association was started in 2011 by a diverse group with an interest in accelerating the production and use of orchard mason bees (various Osmia species) in orchards and spring crops. The group is holding its annual meeting in Hood River, Oregon, on December 9-10, 2016. This is a great opportunity to learn more about these species, the potential role they could play in our orchards (and other crops), progress in managing them for successful pollination, and how one might try them in their operation. The first day will be devoted to reporting of recent research results from a number of locations, including California and Europe. A 7-year trial with almonds in California has provided a lot of data and will be described. The second day will focus more on the “how to” of using these bees. More information on the meeting can be found at http://www.orchardbee.org/.
Submitted by David Granatstein, WSU Extension