Managing Solitary Cavity Nesting Bees for Cane Fruit in Oregon

Final Report for FW09-042

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2009: $14,985.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: Western
State: Oregon
Principal Investigator:
Don Strurm
Sturm's Berry Farm Inc.
Co-Investigators:
Dr. Karen Strickler
Pollinator Paradise
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Project Information

Abstract:

Populations of the Oregon berry bee, Osmia aglaia, and the blue orchard bee, O. lignaria, have been increasing on our berry farm since 2008 despite two very cold, wet springs that reduced berry production and reduced bee populations in 2011. Fields with introduced and managed native pollinators have had better pollination than fields without managed native bees. Technical problems in getting a functional webcam were finally resolved in 2012, and we have had one successful season in which our technical advisor, cooperators and colleagues could watch native bees actively nesting and foraging in real time in our fields, as well as monitoring the timing of crop bloom and bloom of alternative forage for the bees. Their advice was very helpful in improving management of our bees in the 2012 foraging season.

Outreach efforts included a blog about the project with webcam images from the 2012 season, open access to the webcam for anyone who was interested, a short article on our project for the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission (ORBC) in their spring 2011 newsletter, a presentation at the December meeting of the ORBC in Woodburn OR, and mention of our native bee pollination efforts on the Berri Health website, a company involved in research on the health effects of black raspberries and berry sales. In addition, this SARE-funded project has stimulated an additional cooperative effort with the Xerces Society and the USDA NRCS to plant native flowers that are now providing additional forage for native bee species and should contribute to even greater increases in native bee populations on the farm in the future. The NRCS has brought two bus loads of NRCS employees to our farm to see our pollination efforts. We hope to participate in a field day with the Xerces Society next season to showcase the various native pollinator projects on our farm.

Project Objectives:

This project has three main objectives:

1. To develop populations of native bees on our berry farm in Corbett, OR, particularly the Oregon berry bee, Osmia aglaia, as well as other native species that may contribute to berry pollination.

2. To determine the feasibility and cost of using a webcam to get feedback from experts to help us manage populations of native bees during berry bloom.

3. To increase awareness of berry growers and others of the existence and diversity of native bees and of simple ways to preserve and manage this resource. In addition we hope that the webcam will allow growers not included directly in the research to become involved and learn about berry pollination by native bees.

Cooperators

Click linked name(s) to expand
  • Steve Brustkern
  • James Cane
  • Mike Carter
  • Eric Mader

Research

Materials and methods:
Objective 1

An initial population of about 1,500 Oregon berry bee, O. aglaia, cocoons were introduced to the Sturm Berry Farm in 2008. Their original source in 2007 was a farm near Medford, OR where an alfalfa seed grower found them nesting along with the alfalfa leafcutting bee, Megachile rotundata.

Two shelters on our farm were created for O. aglaia. One is between a field of black raspberries and a field of blueberries on the east side of our main farm. The other shelter was located in the middle of the farm near fields with a several different berry varieties. Binderboard nesting materials were purchased, and in some cases borrowed, from our technical advisor, Karen Strickler.

The black raspberry site was chosen for placement of a webcam because black raspberries bloom early and sometimes do not get adequate pollination. Our hope was that O. aglaia would contribute to black raspberry pollination first, and then move to other berry varieties. By placing the webcam near the black raspberries, we hoped that we would not only be able to watch the bees nesting with the webcam but could also observe bees foraging on the raspberries.

When in 2010 and 2011 cold spring weather delayed O. aglaia emergence until black raspberries were at the end of their bloom, we decided to try to increase populations of O. lignaria as well, because they emerge before black raspberry blooms and should still be flying when the raspberries start to bloom. In spring 2011 we released about 510 female O. lignaria cocoons before black raspberry bloom. They were divided among the two shelters.

Karen and friends visited our farm one day each fall to help remove bee cocoons from their nests for storage during the winter and to clean the Binderboard nest materials in preparation for the next season. Most of the rest of the management of bees, including placing nests and cocoons in the field before bloom and removing them from the field after bee activity ceases, is done by Rosie Sturm.

Objective 2

Mike Carter, the project engineer, set up a webcam and solar panel next to the black raspberry shelter in spring 2011. Mike describes our system as a fully autonomous pan, tilt, zoom-telephoto remote camera monitoring system with a high resolution color camera built on a solid commercial grade platform with good optics and a high dynamic range CCD that is immune to much of the temperature fluctuations and the wild swings in Oregon’s lighting conditions. Camera images are accessible through the internet and over a web browser. A solar panel was required to power the webcam because it is too far from sources of commercial power. Originally the camera was supposed to be connected via a wireless modem to the internet service available with our computer in our office on the farm. However, our internet provider was unable to transmit images to the web, so in 2011 the webcam was not functional. In February 2012, Mike added a different modem with the ability to access phone service via satellite so that images from our camera could be transmitted to the web over a phone line instead of via wireless internet.

Research results and discussion:
Objective 1

Our first objective, to develop populations of native solitary bees on our berry farm in Corbett, OR, particularly the Oregon berry bee, Osmia aglaia, has been reasonably successful. O. aglaia populations increased from about 1,500 in 2008 to about 21,700 at the beginning of the 2011 season. Cold, wet, spring weather in 2011 resulted in a poor bee yield for the 2012 season, estimated in November 2011 to be about 6,700 O. aglaia cocoons, 31% of the 2010 bee harvest. Weather was more cooperative during bloom in early 2012, and we are expecting that O. aglaia populations increased this season. We will not know until the nesting boards are cleaned in late November or December whether the bees have returned to their 2010 population level.

From about 510 female O. lignaria cocoons released in spring 2011, we recovered about 300 female O. lignaria at the end of the 2011 season, about 58% of the population size that was introduced. Thus, O. lignaria yields were better than O. aglaia. Karen tells us that other people managing O. lignaria in the Portland area also had poor bee yields in 2011 due to the weather. However, we expect a significant increase in these bees this year because of the improved weather in spring 2012. These bees will also be cleaned and population numbers estimated later this year.

In 2011 the bees started to emerge and were put in the field on May 10. However, the weather was cold and wet until mid-June, so bloom was even later than in the spring of 2010. O. lignaria were active in spite of the cold weather, and we observed some of them foraging on black raspberries. Karen and her husband visited our farm on June 16 and 17, 2011 to make observations on bee nesting and foraging. This visit would not have been necessary if the webcam had been operating.

In 2011, we thought that the orchard bees did a good job of pollinating the black raspberries, and the Osmia aglaia performed so-so. Wet weather in 2011 resulted in yield losses on our raspberry production due to freeze damage and root rot. However, we had decent yields of black raspberries in our field in Corbett, where O. lignaria and O. aglaia are managed. In contrast, black raspberry yield was poor at our field in Nahalem where native bees are not managed.

In 2012 a functional webcam (discussed below) greatly facilitated the ability of our technical advisor and others to observe bees nesting and bloom conditions during the foraging season and to provide us with management advice. O. lignaria started to emerge in the berry fields on April 24, before blueberry and blackberry bloom. They were mating by April 29, and were actively nesting during blueberry bloom in early to mid-May. O aglaia were placed into the berry fields during blueberry bloom, and a few began to emerge on May 11, but a rainy spell delayed their activity until black raspberries were in full bloom at the end of May. Both species of bees nested actively throughout June. Black raspberry appeared to have completed bloom by June 19, but a variety of raspberry and blackberry varieties (not visible from the webcam) continued to bloom throughout June and July. Thanks to the presence of the webcam, Dr. Strickler did not travel to Corbett in spring 2012, saving quite a bit of travel time and money.

Monitoring of bee and flower activity by our technical advisor and cooperators helped us improve management of the bees on the farm. Karen was able to notify us about the optimal time to place the bee cocoons in the field in the spring. She also contacted us as bees filled nesting blocks, indicating when more empty nests were needed, and when the foraging season had ended and nests were ready to be removed from the field. This will result in reduced losses of bees to parasites and an increase in bee yields.

In 2012, pollination of our berries was above average. Yields of black raspberry were average. They would have been better except that bird predation was higher than usual on black raspberries and blueberries. Late raspberry yields were low, perhaps due to continued root rot, but pollination was not a problem with them. As in past years, pollination in our berry fields in Nehalem was not as good as on our farm in Corbett, and berry yields were low. We do not currently manage bee populations in Nehalem, but we are working with Eric Mader to plant native flowers that will bloom before and after berry bloom in hopes of increasing the bumble bee and other native bee populations to enhance pollination there.

Dr. Strickler plans to visit in late November to help us prepare the bees for winter storage and to assess this year’s bee reproduction.

In summer 2011 we began working with Eric Mader of the Xerces Society out of Portland and Steve Fedje of the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service to plant a number of alternative native wildflowers such as Phacelia tanacetifolia, Eschscholzia californica, Vicia, Eriophyllum, Prunella, Gaillardia and Lupine to increase native bee populations on the farm. Establishment success varied from poor in some areas to good in others. The webcam and bee nests are located in one of the areas that was planted in 2011, so the webcam allowed Karen and Eric to observe the progression of bloom around the shelter and to make limited observations of bee visitors to these wildflowers. The additional bloom proved to be well-timed to follow raspberry bloom and seemed to keep bees on the property longer than they would have stayed with only berry bloom. We expect that the additional bloom has resulted in increased bee yields this year both for managed and unmanaged bee populations. We are hopeful that seeds that did not germinate in poor establishment areas will germinate next year. These efforts should help with berry pollination in future years.

Objective 2

Regarding our second objective, technical problems were resolved and the webcam went on line on March 23, 2012, well in advance of bee emergence and flower bloom. The webcam remained on line with minimal technical problems through September 2012.

The only mechanical problem that we had during the 2012 foraging season occurred before bloom. In one particularly windy storm, water blew into the glass dome that protects the webcam from the elements and created condensation in the dome for a few days. This problem was fixed when Mike advised us to drill a small hole in the bottom of the dome, allowing water to drain rapidly.

One problem that arose as the season progressed was an unanticipated increase in connectivity on the webcam. We had expected a 5 Gbyte plan at $50 per month for six – seven months to adequately cover visits to the webcam. Mike estimated that this would cover approximately 16 hours of web cam usage. However, by June webcam visits had increased to 11 Gbytes, causing a large increase in the cost of the phone connection for the month. We increased service to a 10 Gbyte plan at $80 per month, which was adequate coverage for rest of the season.

Karen admits to having kept the webcam connected for several hours at a time during the spring, and this may explain the high usage. Another possibility is that ‘robotic’ connections from camera aggregators (services that attach to known web cams and serve as an aggregate site for viewers) may have been accessing the webcam. In order to reduce the traffic on the cell carrier, Mike made the following suggestions for future use of the webcam:

1. Always close out (shut down) any browser sessions once immediate observations are complete. (Don’t leave browser windows open in the background.)

2. Restrict access to named individuals with specific user names and passwords. (Shut the guest account off.)

3. Change internal limits to allow only one user at a time and enable session time limits.

He also advises that the best and least expensive option for anyone considering using a webcam would be to use commercially available power and an internet service with appropriate external connectivity, options that are not currently available in the vicinity of our farm.

Participation Summary

Educational & Outreach Activities

Participation Summary

Education/outreach description:
Objective 3: Outreach

In an effort to meet our third objective, the password allowing access to the webcam images was shared with a number of solitary bee consultants, bee managers and researchers, the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission, Peerbolt Crop Management, the Xerces Society and the NRCS. A few people notified us when they were unable to gain access, and in most cases the problems were resolved.

In addition, for the past two years we have formed a partnership with a company called Berri Health, which is selling our black raspberries on the internet in addition to using them in cancer research. Their website and facebook page include a profile of our farm that discusses our pollination and integrated pest management efforts. The website, http://www.berrihealth.com/about.html#eco, includes a link to Karen’s Oregon Berry Bee Project blog.

Karen has been reporting our progress on the Oregon Berry Bee Blog, http://oregonberrybee.blogspot.com/2010_06_01_archive.html . Postings on the blog increased considerably this season compared with previous seasons because of the webcam. Images captured from the webcam documented bees mating in the nesting shelter, numbers of plugged nests at different times over the season, change in the state of bloom of blueberry and black raspberry, weather conditions and general appearance of the shelter and fields. Some of the photos are included as an appendix to this report.

In 2011 we published a short article about native bees for berry pollination in the spring issue of the newsletter of the Oregon Raspberry and Blackberry Commission. In December 2011, Karen was the luncheon speaker at the ORBC Annual Meeting in Woodburn, OR. Her talk was titled: Managing Native Bees for Cane Fruit Pollination.

Steven D. Fedje, District Conservationist for West Multnomah Soil & Water Conservation District brought two bus loads (about 25 people per bus) of new NRCS employees from around the country to visit our farm over the summer, showcasing our efforts at pollinator management. These visits made new district conservationists aware of what can be done to encourage pollinators on farms, and this information should help other growers around the country to implement similar changes.

We have been selling our berries at the farmers’ market and find that our customers love the idea of the bee projects on our farm. There was not time while selling at market to give people information about the webcam, but given the cost of the phone connection, we would not want our customers to access the webcam. However, information about the bee pollination projects is a good marketing tool for us in selling our product.

The Xerces Society postponed holding a pollination field day on our farm because of poor establishment of some of the sites with native wildflowers, but they are hopeful that next season establishment will be better and a field day will take place. If so, we will also discuss the results of this Western SARE-funded project.

Project Outcomes

Recommendations:

Potential Contributions

User response to webcam

On June 19, Mike sent out a request for input from the end-users of the webcam. He noted: “From my own perspective, the system isn’t as responsive as I’d like it to be. Unfortunately, the factors involved are fairly complex and not easily addressed without significant changes to cellular carrier infrastructure. Data performance can vary greatly based on weather, carrier loading (traffic) and RF path variances to the cell site. Ultimately, the local ISP would have been the best route, but as they appear to be incapable of correctly configuring their own equipment, that option is not available.”

Mike received responses from end users Karen, Eric and from a pollination consultant, Mathew Allen, who lives in England and works with blue orchard bees as pollinators of almond in California. Excerpts of their comments are reported here. Full text is available at the Oregon Berry Bee Blog.

Eric Mader, comment 1: “This could be useful technology for a lot of sites. I’ve got a 50 acre prairie restoration project on an island in the Columbia River. Something like this could be useful for reducing boat trips!”

Eric Mader, comment 2: “The camera has been a nice feature. Ultimately, if it could also zoom in on crop flowers, and most importantly to me—the ground areas around bee shelters so that we could monitor our wildflower seedling development—that would result in a lot more camera use on my part. It did save me a bit of travel time out to the site. And if I had site monitoring like this on many of my projects around the country, it could be a great tool.
The resolution to date however has not been quite good enough for me to monitor seedling development as accurately as I’d ultimately like.
That said, I think this was a great first start at using this technology. Live web cams are tricky enough indoors, but to make it work on a remote site, with little connectivity, and lots of wind/rain I think is a pretty great accomplishment! Thanks for involving Xerces in this process!”

Matt Allen (Pollination Consultant): “I would like to say that I found your webcam trial very useful indeed and am delighted you carried out the work. My view is that commercial pollinators as well as researchers will find this technology very advantageous, and I for one want to pursue it … in due course…

In terms of feedback on the current set-up … the camera could be faster to respond, and the definition could be better. However, these issues can be remedied, I am sure. The key thing is that (a) you have done it and (b) it works. … Thank you so much for carrying it through.”

Karen Strickler found the webcam sufficiently useful that she did not come to Corbett in the spring to observe the bees as she has done in previous seasons without the webcam. She was able to obtain information about weather patterns on the farm, the rate at which bees filled nests, and the phenology of bloom of the berries and other flowers. She was disappointed not to be able to observe bee activity on flowers which were too far from the webcam. She found it easy to capture webcam images for her blog and to add preset views to the webcam. She was able to provide advice to Rosie about summer management of the bees that should result in improved bee yields for next season.

We know of at least three other berry growers in Oregon who are either currently managing native bee pollinators or who have expressed interest in our efforts. One response to the blog was received on November 2 from a new berry grower in Curry county, OR who reported that her berries are well pollinated, but that she is interested in learning how to assist native pollinators.

Future Recommendations

Economic Analysis

The attached file provides a rough estimate of the costs of managing native bees and the cost of setting up a webcam for growers that may be interested.

The native bee management costs assume that the grower will set up nests and shelters, put cocoons in the field and follow advice of a consultant based on observations with the webcam. The cost of consulting using the webcam should be compared with the cost of travel to the farm to check on bee activity and bloom conditions.

Consulting costs do not include cost of travel to the farm to clean the bees, or alternatively, cost of shipping nests to the consultant for cleaning and return shipping of cleaned nests and cocoons. These estimates also do not include the costs of planting native wildflowers to attract native bee populations to a farm.

Some or all of these bee management expenses could be compensated with excess bees that a pollination consultant could sell. Currently, there is a market for O. lignaria; compensation could be from $0.10 to $0.50 per female bee. There is no market yet for O. aglaia. Therefore, yearly consulting costs could be compensated if between 1,560 and 7,800 excess female O. lignaria were available for sale after cleaning and winterizing the nests. Bee nests could be loaned to a grower if excess bees for sale were available consistently.

The cost of webcam equipment does not include the cost of engineering consulting and help with installation and maintenance. Mike advises that a second system like ours with solar panel, remote internet connection and a camera with similar capabilities, would probably run closer to $4,000. However, a system that does not require cellular connection and operating with commercial power would probably cost $2,400 for similar camera capability.

A small family farm like ours cannot afford to pay for a webcam set up and consulting services like this out of our own pocket. Perhaps some growers have the expertise to set up a system themselves and save on consultant fees, making it more affordable. Large fruit and berry growers who are interested in using native bees, and researchers with grant money, might want to consider such a system. Marketing and environmental considerations could also play a role in the decision to manage native bees and to install a webcam to aid in bee and other farm management decisions.

We have not decided whether or not to continue using the webcam and what level of bee management to continue with in the future, but we are happy to have had the opportunity to work with native bees and to explore the option of using a webcam to maximize the input of technical support in their management.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.