Over the four years of the project, 130 fields were sampled for native bees, covering approximately 10,000 acres of land across Delaware and parts of Maryland. We reached over 500 farmers and industry professionals at the three Ag Week Pollination Symposiums, the 2008 Pollinator Day Event, and the final 2010 Twilight Tour with Bees. Four guides were produced and distributed in print and online: Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees, Farming for Native Bees in Delaware, and Meadows and Buffers for Bees. Creating Mid-Atlantic Pollinator Habitats.
Fifty farmers signed up to have their farms surveyed for native bees. This represents 2/3rds of the farmers listed on Delaware Cooperative Extensions vine crop farmer list. During this project, a total of 123 species of native bees were collected and identified, including 20 bee species that had not previously been recorded in Delaware (State Records). A farm assessment tool was developed, and 15 assessments were conducted. Recommendations were presented for management actions to help conserve and enhance native bee populations. At the conclusion of the assessments, 6 of these farmers agreed to sign on and complete pollinator improvements on their farm. These ranged from small changes in management practices to higher investment opportunities. The management changes implemented included 12 Tier one “Changes in Management Practices”, 9 Tier 2 “Basic, Low Cost or Do-it-yourself Improvements”, and 6 Tier 3 “Higher Investment Improvements”.
Populations of honey bees, America’s most important managed pollinator, are declining. Their decreased availability and reduced vigor have become a concern for scientists and farmers, as bees pollinate many fruit and vegetable crops. ‘Farming for Native Bees’ was a 4-year project (2007-2010) with the following primary goals: survey native bees associated with cucurbit and organic crops in Delaware, and recommend management practices to enhance pollinator populations. The findings, however, were of interest to farmers producing other pollinator-dependant crops, as well as a wide variety of landowners and gardeners.
The project provided farmers with information on the composition of native bee populations, as well as how to increase their nesting sites, modify pesticide practices, and alter plantings on field margins to help support these populations. Project findings were communicated through Cooperative Extension field days, Delaware Department of Agriculture events, and a large number of invited presentations. Native bee fact sheets and management guides were developed and distributed as copy, and made available on the internet. Data were presented to NRCS to facilitate refinement of existing Conservation Cover guidelines. Project outcomes include expanded adoption of pollinator-friendly farm management practices.
Performance Target. Of the 105 cucurbit farmers in Delaware/Maryland, 75 will develop an awareness of one or more native bees pollinating their crops. More than 100 people attended a Native Bee workshop, presented by the Delaware Department of Agriculture and University of Delaware, held during Delaware Agriculture Week, 2008.
Of this group, 15 will make at least one of the following changes to enhance native bee populations: (a) provide nesting materials (b) modify insecticide programs and (c) land management to improve habitat. Fifteen assessments were developed for farms, with recommendations for habitat improvements. Six farmers agreed to sign on and complete pollinator improvements on their farm. These ranged from small changes in management practices to higher investment opportunities. These changes are detailed by farm in the Farmer Adoption section.
At least 3 farmers will sign onto an NRCS conservation program, designed to provide long-term favorable habitat for native bees. Still awaiting numbers from NRCS office.
At least 2 of the cucurbit farmers will incorporate lessons learned from the project into their agritourism displays to promote public awareness of agricultural conservation. One farmer devoted a 0.75 acre meadow, immediately adjacent to the farm stand, to pollinator habitat. He posted signs by the meadow and pictures and signs in the stand. A display box of native bees caught during the project was developed for a second farmer. This box is on display in the farm store.
To better understand the presence or absence of native pollinators in the agroecosystem sampling transects were set up along cucurbit, organic, mixed fields, and natural areas. Fields were selected from farmers that responded to an initial interest survey. Figure 1 identifies the locations across Delaware and Maryland where transects were deployed. The traps deployed were selected for their ease in set up, passive sampling technique, and their ability to not be affected by observer bias. During the first year two types of traps were used, vane and pan traps. However, after the first year the vane traps were no longer used due to their lack of significant catch. During the first year a transect consisted of 100m line of sampling area, 50m of vane traps, 50 m of pan traps, with a 25 m buffer in between. During the subsequent years, transects consisted of a 100m line of pan traps.
Vane traps from Springstar LLC type BVT1 were used. The vane was blue in color with a clear catch bowl and hung on a metal rod 1m from the ground. A no-pest strip was used to kill the insects after capture. Three vane traps were set up in 50m along each transect. Samples were collected after 24 hours.
The pan traps used were 3.25 ounce Solo™ Brand soufflé cups. Each cup is painted with a fluorescent paint; the colors included blue, yellow, and white as these colors are common in bee-pollinated flowers (3). This particular size and colors of the bowls have been shown to be attractive to the most bees (2). Each cup was filled half-way with soapy water. The soap in the water helped to break the surface tension, and prevented the insects from escaping. Original dawn was chosen due to its lack of ammonia and light scent. It has been shown that the presence of ammonia and a heavy scent lowers pan catches. The soap was used in the concentration of one drop per bowl. There were 15 pan traps set up along the transect.
Netting was used to evaluate what bees were visiting specific crop blossoms. Due to time constraints and high observer bias netting was only conducted at a few locations. The net used was a standard 15 inch polyester aerial net. Bees were netted for 30 minutes and then placed in kill jars and pinned. The kill jars were charged with Ethyl acetate.
Other contributing factors
Climate data were recorded during sampling as cold, windy, and rainy conditions can adversely affect the flight of bees (1). Surrounding vegetation was noted in the field.
Vane trap specimens were pinned immediately upon return to the laboratory. Pan trap samples were preserved in 70% Ethyl alcohol until they were pinned. The samples were filtered from the alcohol through a hand-strainer and then rinsed with distilled water and 70% Ethyl alcohol to dislodge any remaining debris on the bees. The insects were then strained a final time and then put into a jar with a screened lid. A hair dryer was used to dry the specimen’s hairs and make the bees easier to identify. After drying, specimens were then pinned for labels and identification.
Labels were made using the Discover Life website (www.discoverlife.org) . This website was developed by a group of scientists working on an Insect Diversity Project, to provide an efficient label and database network that provides an institution with a unique identifier. Each label details where and when the bee was collected, and contains a unique barcode. This barcode links the specimen to the Discover Life database, where the location data, trap timing, environmental conditions, bloom data and species identification can be found. Labels were printed on white, acid & lignin free, archival quality paper. Once a specimen was labeled, it was identified. Initial species level identification was completed at the DDA and then identifications were confirmed with the USGS native bee expert, Sam Droege.
Once a specimen has been identified, its barcode was scanned and entered into a database.
(1) Bee Plot Page Draft 2003 Sam Droege. A standardized method for monitoring Bee Populations – The Bee Inventory (BI) Plot.
(2) Impact of Color and Size of Bowl Trap on Numbers of Bees Captured Sam Droege
(3) Russell, K.N; Ikerd, H.; Droege, S.. (2005) The potential conservation value of unmoved powerline strips for native bees. Biological Conservation. 124; pp.133-148.
In early 2007, a survey was mailed to farmers throughout Delaware in an effort to obtain information of known bee farming practices including knowledge of native bee species, land management practices, and pesticide use (see attached). Farmers were also asked about their interest and ability to participate in a 4-year project to study native pollinators associated with cucurbit crops in Delaware and to assist the Delaware Department of Agriculture in developing methods to promote these species in the environment.
In 2007 a phone survey was coordinated between the Delaware Department of Agriculture and local farmers interested in or already participating in the farming for native bees project. Solicitation was intended to extend communication in an effort to obtain site specific information on land use history, management practices and pesticide use. Farms were visited and data was gathered by direct communication with the farmers.
In 2008, a second mail survey was developed specifically to collect information about pesticide practices on farms (see attached). Initially the objective was to obtain detailed information about the type and frequency of insecticides, herbicides, and fungicides used on the farm. This information, however, can be viewed as competitive information between farmers and the data was not forthcoming. We redirected our efforts to educating farmers about best management practices to minimize impacts to native pollinators.
In 2010 efforts were made by personal communication and on-line survey to provide an outlet for farmers to express the usefulness, efficacy and impact of the farming for native bees project. The most effective and successful component of these wrap-up efforts were at the final field day, “Twilight Tour with Bees.”
Farm assessment reports present data collected from each farm, including bees, flowering plants and crops. These data were used to develop a site-specific pollinator management strategy. Reports present information and data on past and current farm practices, land use, plant diversity and invasive species, native bee pollinators, and crop pollination requirements and management for pollinators. Seven focal pollinator species with demonstrated ability to pollinate crops in Delaware were the focus for management (Lasioglossum species, Melissodes bimaculata, Peponapis pruinosa, Bombus species, Agapostemon splendens, Augochlora pura and Ceratina species). In 2008 we compiled data and prepared reports for 5 sites and presented these results in round-table discussions with each farmer. In 2009 we completed an additional 11 assessment reports, utilizing an improved and streamlined report format.
We simplified the reports to focus on how the pollinators interact with the crops and where improvements could be made to enhance pollinator abundance, diversity and efficacy. First, we expanded the section on plant diversity to highlight native flowers detected on site that are beneficial for native pollinators. A table provided information about these plants and some invasive species that are commonly found on farms. Second, we removed the section on soils but discussed general habitat types as identified using state GIS archive data and aerial photos. Third, the following bee data was emphasized: 1) bee diversity and, 2) abundance of focal species by site, and 3) months sampled. Finally, area recommendations were limited to cropped and non-cropped areas in and around the farm. Pollination needs, current conditions and recommendations were discussed for each crop or habitat type.
The goal of each assessment was to provide crop specific pollination information that farmers could use to improve management practices to benefit native bees. At the end of each report, we provided a 3-tied approach to management (simple management practices, low-cost or do-it-yourself improvements and investment improvements). At tier 1, simple changes encouraged enhancing native vegetation and controlling invasive weeds. At tier 2, basic improvements included providing artificial nest boxes or cavities for bees, leaving un-tilled ground near crops (ie., pumpkins) and planting native wildflowers. At tier 3, higher investment improvements, such as the installation of buffer strips with native shrubs and wildflowers, changing management practices to protect native bees (reducing insecticide use) and leaving un-tilled areas and bare ground to support ground nesting species were recommended. We reviewed assistance programs available through NRCS and their pollinator habitat specific programs (EQIP and WHIP) and provided local contact information.
Milestone 1: Seventy-five of the cucurbit farmers attending a conference where the Native Bee project is discussed will express interest in changing on-farm practices to favor bees-early 2007.
Interest from the conference, followed up by a letter to all vine crop farmers in Delaware resulted in 50 farmers signing up their farm for a native bee survey. The time for this shifted to early 2008, as the project did not formally begin until May 2007, and the conference was held in January 2008.
Milestone 2: Farmers will review the initial field guide and provide feedback-late 2007. Feedback was received on 2008, but only from a few farmers. We became aware of an upcoming SARE native bee publication “Managing Native Pollinators”, still in press. This guide was very well done, comprehensive and more than adequately covered the subject. Thus efforts were redirected away from a native bee field guide towards a buffer strip and meadow management guide, “Meadows and Buffers for Bees. Creating Mid-Atlantic Pollinator Habitats” which was published in December 2011.
Milestone 3: Fifteen farmers will sign up their production areas for the native bee survey, decide which changes are most suitable for their farm and commit to a timetable for farm management changes-early 2008. As the project progressed, it became clear that while a number of farmers were interested in modifying practices, where practical, to promote pollinator conservation, a knowledge gap existed. The project team then decided to develop an assessment tool that could be tailored for individual farms. Team members conduct a habitat and practices inventory for the farm, and developed a series of specific recommendations for that farm. The project committee met several times during the summer of 2008, endeavoring to agree upon an assessment tool. The first 5 assessments were completed at the end of 2008 – early 2009, and the balance were completed by the end of 2009.
Milestone 4: Fifteen farmers will respond to a survey and/or participate in a workshop to discuss modifications utilized, review population results, and discuss barriers encountered-late 2008.
Project team members met with 10 of the 15 farmers for whom assessments were conducted to review the findings and discuss possible management changes. Some of the farmers returned the signup sheets, however some did not respond, even after follow up telephone calls.
Milestone 5: Data obtained on native bee populations in 2006-2008 will be presented to NRCS and/or CREP programs and offered to farmers-Jan. 2009. Delaware NRCS approached the Department of Agriculture for assistance with development of guidelines for programs involving pollinator conservation. Specific guidance was given in the areas of pesticide use and the planting of buffer strips. In August 2008, a letter was sent to all farmers participating in the bee project, encouraging them to investigate the EQIP program.
Milestone 6: At least 3 farmers will sign onto an NRCS or Sate conservation program that incorporates native bees-June 2009. Awaiting final tally from NRCS office. One of the participating farmers won the national NAPPC-NACD Farmer-Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award, October 2008.
Milestone 7: Final evaluation of project-June 2010. In 2010 efforts were made by personal communication and on-line survey to provide an outlet for farmers to express the usefulness, efficacy and impact of the farming for native bees project. The most effective and successful component of these wrap-up efforts were at the final field day. With over 75 registered participants in the final field day, the participants in the project were recognized for their contributions to our outreach efforts and for their generous ‘open door’ policy to facilitate sampling and data collection at their farms. Each participant was given the SARE publication, “Managing Alternative Pollinators”, by Mader and Spivak, to encourage their continued efforts to manage and promote native bees on their farm.
In the first quarter of 2008 we published a field guide to the native bees of Delaware. In this publication, 7 groups of pollinators were introduced, based on 2006 field data. These groups included; bumble bees, digger bees, sweat bees, leaf-cutting bees, carpenter bees, mason bees, and honey bees. This field guide was developed to introduce farmers to some of the native bees detected on their farms and to help them learn about the diversity of native bees present and introduce them to basic field identification traits. This field guide was distributed during Delaware Ag Week 2008, to participants in a “Bee and Vine Crop Pollination Workshop.” In addition to receiving these outreach materials, we asked farmers to sign up for assessments designed to help us understand some of the current farming practices throughout the state and develop site-specific strategies to enhance native bee habitats. In February we distributed a letter to all the farmers that had expressed interest in the site assessments and initiated scheduling these visits from June-September.
From February to May 2008, we developed protocols to assess each farm property for its potential to support native bee species. The data collected would be correlated with bee collections at each site. In addition to identifying the crops grown at each site, native flowering plants, trees, grasses and invasive species were also recorded. We surveyed existing ground nesting and cavity nesting bee habitat and areas around the farm that could be protected or supplemented to support bee nesting sites. Five farm assessments were completed in 2008.
The data collected from farm assessments and bee sampling were compiled into detailed reports for each farm. These assessment reports provide detailed information about what bees were collected, what habitat is presently available to these pollinators and provides specific recommendations that each farmer can implement to improve and conserve bee habitat in the future.
Additional outreach activities:
Displays and presentations were given throughout the four years of the grant. In total 22 talks to adults, 10 children’s talks and 29 displays were presented. The audiences included the following: Agriculture Professional groups, Organic farmer groups, Specific interest groups, Commodity groups, Beekeepers, Entomological Societies, Garden Clubs, Cooperative Extension Educators, University students, Girl Scouts, and the General Public at Agro-tourism Events, Festival Events, State Parks, Earth Days, and Farmers Markets.
Agriculture and Related Groups
Agriculture Day, University of Delaware
Agriculture Mentor Program
Backyard Beekeepers Association (Connecticut)
Central Maryland Beekeepers Monthly Meeting
Delaware Agriculture Week- Pollinator and Fruit Sessions
Delaware Beekeepers Association Meetings- Sussex, New Castle and Kent Co. meetings, also Annual Meeting
Delaware Forestry Association’s 25th Anniversary Celebration
Delaware State Fair
Delaware State University’s Sustainable Agriculture Class
Eastern Apiculture Society Meeting
Empire State Honey Producers Association
Friends of Agriculture
Historic Lewes Farmer’s Market
IR-4 Working Group
Mar-Del Watermelon Farmers Association
Mid-Atlantic Crop Management School
Pennsylvania Cooperative Extension Pollinator Workshop- York, PA
University of Delaware’s Ornamentals Research Expo
Western Sussex Farmers Market- Seaford, DE
Conserving Native Pollinators- BROCHURE on Native bees and their habitats.
Farming for Native Bees – BROCHURE – Project Description and Quick native bee fact sheet
Open Garden Day- BROCHURE – Detailing an event and plants that were good for pollinators
Gardening for Bees- FACT SHEET – Detailing native bee conservation, for gardeners
Twilight Tour with Bees- PROGRAM – Program itinerary, management changes, and program overview
Farming for Native Bees in Delaware- GUIDE – Management guide to some of the native bees found on Delaware farms
Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees- GUIDE- Pictorial guide to native plants that are beneficial to pollinators
Farm Management for Native Bees- GUIDE – Practices that preserve, protect, and provide areas suitable for native bees
Meadows and Buffers for Bees – Creating Mid-Atlantic Pollinator Habitats – GUIDE – Creating and sustaining pollinator habitats
Ag Week Symposiums- January 2008, 2009, 2010
Open Garden Day – June 26, 2008
Twilight Tour with Bees- August 30, 2010
Additional Project Outcomes
Impacts of Results/Outcomes
Our work has reached a large and varied audience across Delaware and Maryland, and been presented at national meetings. We assisted the farming community by identifying the native bees on their farms and providing information about their life history. Once farmers became aware of their native bee community complex, many decided to make or keep management changes to ensure these populations were not negatively affected by the farming operations. A significant impact was that for the first time, a baseline and long-term native bee monitoring system was established in Delaware. This is very important due to the fact that after a year is over the native bee population from that year can never be sampled again if the monitoring program is not continued.
During this project, 20 bee species were collected that had not previously been recorded in Delaware (State Records). These bees include Andrena rudbeckiae, Augochloropsis sumptuosa, Hoplitis simplex, Lasioglossum lustrans, Lasioglossum nelumbonis, Lasioglossum nymphale, Lasioglossum pruinosum, Lasioglossum sopinci, Lasioglossum vierecki, Megachile pugnata, Nomada australis, Osmia chalybea, Osmia collinsiae, Osmia georgica, Osmia sandhouseae, Osmia texana, Perdita octomaculata, Sphecodes antennariae, Sphecodes carolinus, Sphecodes illinoensis. In total, 123 species of native bees were recorded, see Figure 2.
This project also supported researchers working in other areas of bee biology. Specimens from our surveys were sent to researchers who are genetically barcoding different groups of native bees. Rare native bees that were collected were donated to the Smithsonian for their permanent collection.
The most important impact of our work was the dissemination of information to Delaware farmers. We reached over 500 farmers and industry professionals at the three Ag Week Pollination Symposiums, the 2008 Pollinator Day Event, and the final 2010 Twilight Tour with Bees. At these meetings the most current native bee information from our field sampling was presented, along with information on bee habitat improvement, benefits to pollinator conservation, protecting bees from pesticides, and bee biology. Brochures, fact sheets and guides were given to the participants for future reference.
Experimental results with discussion
When all of the samples were combined, the native bee genus most commonly caught was Lasioglossum at 61% (See Figure 3.) The second most commonly bee caught was Ceratina (11%), the small carpenter bee. The third most common bee found was Melissodes (10%), a digger bee; this bee is of medium size. Following these three were Agapostemon (5%), Augochlorella (2%), and Augochlora (2%), all medium sized Green Sweat bees. Another sweat bee, Halictus (2%) followed these bees and is medium to large sized bee. Bombus (1%), the bumble bee; Peponapis (1%), the squash bee; Ptilothrix (1%), the mallow bee; Megachile (1%), the leafcutter bee; and Osmia (1%) the mason bee finished up the bee genus’ caught. This is all important information for the farmer because it helps to determine what type of nesting habitat the bees are nesting in. Ground-nesting bees make up 79% of the bees captured with cavity nesting bees making up the remaining 21%.
Figure 4 shows that native bees were caught throughout the growing season. Peak native bee abundance occurred in July, with the populations building up during the months of April, May, and June. In August and September you see a steep decline in native bees caught per transect. This information informs the farmer on when to expect native bees to be able to pollinate crops and when it would be opportune to have supplemental pollination.
The most bees per transect were found in watermelon fields, followed by pumpkin fields and cucumber fields respectively (See Figure 5). The next highest level of bees per transect found were in the state forest and state park systems. Approximately 9% of the land in Delaware’s State Park system is in agricultural production. This was followed by organic or naturally grown fields and areas preserved for wildlife. None of these differences were significant. Reasons for the increase in bees per transect for the cropped areas could be due to the crop blossoms being present, or the grassy areas around the fields. However, it was noted in field observations that there were more bees at the organic or naturally grown areas that were not caught in our visual traps most likely due to the many crop blossoms available. These blossoms drew the bees away from our traps, which was not the case at the large acreage fields where in the weeks after blossoming there were no blossoms to attract the bees which made our traps were more attractive.
During one field season, a study of native bee visitation to crop blossoms was conducted. Figure 6 reports the bees netted during this time in watermelon, cucumber, and pumpkin blossoms. Native bees outnumbered the honeybee, Apis mellifera, in two of the three cropping systems, Watermelon and Pumpkin. In cucumber, the honeybee was by far the most numerous pollinator. The squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa, was found in the pumpkin fields only. This was to be expected as this bee feeds its young solely on pumpkin, gourd, or squash pollen.
Finally, in 2010, there were several watermelon farmers that were interested to find out if there were differences in the bees visiting seedless watermelon plants verses their pollenizer plants. These pollenizer plants were either planted inside each row (“in row”) or the pollenizer plants were planted singly in an entire row (“8 bed”). Figure 7 details the number of native bees netted in watermelon fields per transect. It was found that there were more bumble bees (Bombus) per transect when the pollenizer plants were planted in the row verses when these plants were planted in an entire row. There were also more native bees in the watermelon plants that were planted with the pollenizer plants in the row, see Melissodes, Halictus, and Augochlorella. The honeybee, Apis mellifera were found in equal numbers per transect in both cropping systems.
Number of farmers reached and the changes they made as a result
Fifty farmers signed up to have their farms surveyed. This represents 2/3rds of the farmers listed on Delaware Cooperative Extensions vine crop farmer list. Over the four years, 130 fields were sampled covering approximately 10,000 acres of farmland across Delaware and a few areas in Maryland.
Of these farms, 15 farmers agreed to have a detailed assessment done on their farm. In conclusion of the assessments, 6 of these farmers agreed to sign on and completed pollinator improvements on their farm. These ranged from small changes in management practices to higher investment opportunities. These changes are detailed by farm in the Farmer Adoption section.
Impact on other non-ag audiences
The media attention to Colony Collapse Disorder, along with announcement of the Department’s native bee project generated considerable interest among local organizations. Numerous requests for displays and presentations were received. The non-agriculture audiences reached through lectures and displays included Beekeepers, Garden Clubs, Entomological Groups, University Students, State Park Groups, Children’s Groups, State of Delaware Events, the state Zoo, and several public events of general interest. These presentations focused on native bee biology, environmental and garden improvements, and what can be done to benefit these bee populations. Native bees collected during the project were on display, and the habitat improvements made by Delaware farmers were highlighted.
Non- Agriculture Groups Serviced due to this Project
Academy of Natural Sciences workshop (Philadelphia)
American Entomological Society
AstraZeneca Earth Days- Newark & Wilmington
Brandywine Zoo Pollinator Event, Wilmington, DE
Brownie Girl Scout Troup- Middletown, DE
Bug Fest, Academy of Natural Sciences (Philadelphia)
Coalition for Natural Stream Valleys, Inc.
Coast Day University of Delaware- Lewes, DE
Delaware Department Health and Human Services
Delaware Invasive Species Council
Dover Garden Club, Dover, DE
Entomological Society of America, and Eastern Branch
- Genera collected in bowl traps
- Bees per transect, by month
- Bees per transects, by land use type
- Netting studies, by crop
- Bee species recorded 2007-2010
- Bees netted in watermelon
Formal assessments were completed on 15 farms. Of those farmers six committed to make substantial management changes to improve their properties for pollinators. In addition two additional farmers made minor management changes. Below is a compilation of the long-term pollinator improvements that occurred on the cooperating farms.
Farm #1- A small scale conventional vegetable and grain farmer in Delaware’s central county planted a 0.75 acre parcel of land into a wildflower mix and built native bee nesting blocks. These changes benefit the farm’s profitability by increasing pollination chances because of the increased pollinator food and habitat choices. This farmer also agreed to treat an invasive plant in their buffer strips, and reduced their mowing schedule to increase wildflowers on edges. These choices improve the farms environmental stewardship by having land that is not actively managed or farmed therefore reducing fossil fuel and pesticide usage, reducing runoff, and reducing the amount of land taken up by an invasive species that provides no nutritional value to pollinators. In addition, during the first year this farmer had a thriving agri-tourism business and the habitat improvements were a way to communicate to the public their commitment to the environment and their community. This farmer was also recognized by the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign as the National Pollinator Conservationist of the Year.
Farm #2- A specialty crop farmer in Delaware’s central county agreed to create a feathered border in between their growing area and the surrounding forest. This involved not mowing the grass border between the crops and forest and allowing native flowering fauna to grow there. This border will also be kept in grass and will not have any woody plants. The second commitment was to less mulch in between crop rows to encourage ground nesting bees. A final change that this farmer committed to was removing the small amount of invasive plant species in their forest before it became a large problem. This will encourage native ground cover that will keep the forest floor open for ground nesting bees. These commitments will increase their farm profitability and environmental sustainability by having additional forage and nesting habitats for bees as well as for other invertebrates and vertebrates.
After establishing this border the farmer has seen additional native bees in their squash blossoms which have had pollination problems in the past. This farmer also shares their experiences with their customers, which include many restaurants in Delaware’s resort areas. The chefs that have visited the farm have been educated on what bees are on the farm with a display of specimens and how important these bees are in pollinating the farmer’s crops.
Farm #3- An organic community farmer in Delaware’s southern county agreed to provide nesting sites for bumble bees and other cavity nesting bees. Controlling invasive trees and continued production of crops in the squash family were also on this farmer’s commitment list. The continued production of squash is most important for the squash bee, Peponapis purinosa. This bee is a specialist on squash and pumpkin plants and uses it exclusively for their young. These commitments will have the same farm profitability and environmental stewardship impacts as in Farm #1 & #2. This farmer received a box of the bees collected from their farm and planned on using it to educate their Community Supported Agriculture members.
Farm #4- A living museum in Delaware’s northern county that grows their own crops with heirloom seeds signed up for the native bee survey and assessment. A change in leadership kept the agreed upon commitments to a minimum, however, the museum did commit to keeping invasive plants out of their pastures, lowering their mulch use, and to continue to propagate pumpkins. These commitments would increase native bee nesting sites and provide forage for the squash bee. Also during the museum’s events they can advertise their pollinator friendliness with their native bee specimen box. These commitments will have the same farm profitability and environmental stewardship impacts as in Farm #1 & #2.
Farm #5- A large scale cucurbit farmer on the Eastern Shore of Maryland committed and planted a 2 acre parcel of land in the center of their operation with a wildflower mix. They also set up two native bee nesting blocks to provide habitat for cavity nesting bees. This major commitment of land provides forage and nesting sites for the native bees. This commitment benefits the environment by reducing pesticide and herbicide use, reducing tillage, and reducing fossil fuel use. The addition of flowers also attracts and retains bees to the location that will be available for cucurbit pollination, as well as beneficial predators that can damage pest populations.
Farm #6- A small scale fruit orchard in Delaware’s northern county participated by educating the public about the bees caught on their small farm where they also grow vegetables, sell plants, and have several animals. This farmer also agreed to build and distribute cavity nesting blocks and bumble bee boxes. The nesting blocks are great habitat substitutions in an urban landscape which this fruit orchard was situated within. The increase in nesting sites will create more pollination chances for the fruit orchard which is currently dependant on Apis mellifera, the honey bee. This dependency on the honey bee is especially problematic because the bee is often unreliable during cool temperatures and this is the time when many of the fruit trees are in need of pollination and native bees can pick up this pollination need. The CSA that is connected with this orchard will also benefit from pollinator education that is available through the farm.
Farm #7- A historical museum, garden, and library in Delaware’s northern county has decided to allow native plants to grow along their roadways. This will have environmental benefits of reduced mowing and ground disturbance which will benefit the bee populations.
Farm #8- A large scale watermelon and cucumber farmer in Delaware’s southern county has decided to use Bombus impatiens, a commercially available bumble bee as their primary pollination agent in the watermelon fields. This farmer has also amended the commercial bumble bee boxes to provide shade and protection from the elements. This benefits the farm financially by having reliable pollination provided for a cheaper rate compared to honeybees.
Farm #9- A large scale watermelon farmer in Delaware’s southern county has chosen to continue to plant sunflowers close to their watermelon operation to provide forage for the bee community. This provides environmental benefits of additional pollen sources for the bees, as well as seed forage for bird populations.
Farm #10 & 11- Two large scale vegetable farmers in Delaware’s southern county are contemplating planting a 1 acre parcel of land in a wildflower mix. After speaking with several biologists they are in the planning stages of turning the land into native bee habitat.
Farm #12- An average size pick-your-own berry farm in Delaware’s southern county decided to stay Certified Naturally Grown, and to allow native wildflowers to grown in between the plants. This reduces herbicide use, and provides additional pollen sources for the bee populations.
Farm # 13, 14, & 15- These farmers are average size with farming being part of their property management along with conservation and recreational areas. They all respectively decided to grow native wildflowers on their property along road and walkway edges. As with previous farmers this reduces pesticide use, reduces mowing and fossil fuel use, and provides additional forage and habitat for the bee populations.
Farm # 16- This farmer decided to plant the area surrounding their pond in native wildflowers. This reduces pesticide use, reduces mowing and fossil fuel use, provides additional forage and habitat for the bee population, and reduces runoff into the pond.
In conclusion, the management changes that were implemented included 12 Tier one “Changes in Management Practices”, 9 Tier 2 “Basic, Low Cost or Do-it-yourself Improvements”, and 6 Tier 3 “Higher Investment Improvements”.
Areas needing additional study
A priority for native bee research is the need for ongoing yearly native bee sampling. As noted in the outcomes section this is of utmost importance due to farmers needing reliable pollination information and if wild native bee populations begin to decline and no sampling is going on the decline may become irreversible.
Continued research needs to be conducted on specific crop fields such as watermelon to determine if wild native bees can be a cost-effective alternative to honey bees for a large scale farming operation. Previous published research has been on small plots, and future research should compare large-scale, commercially-managed fields vs. field plots. This is something that the industry has wanted to see according to our 2010 survey of watermelon farmers. The surveyed farmers also wanted to see how the size and composition of bee populations are related to factors with economic impact, mainly the yield and size of watermelons produced. Previous research studies and projects have used indirect measures of pollinator activity and effectiveness, such as floral visitation.