Investigating ways to improve native pollinator floral resources by comparing multipurpose cover crops of Phacelia, buckwheat, and a commercial bee forage mix

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2013: $5,983.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2014
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
John Hayden
The Farm Between

Annual Reports

Information Products


  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), berries (blueberries), berries (brambles), cherries, pears, plums, berries (strawberries)
  • Animals: bees


  • Crop Production: catch crops, crop rotation, cover crops
  • Education and Training: on-farm/ranch research
  • Farm Business Management: whole farm planning
  • Natural Resources/Environment: carbon sequestration, biodiversity
  • Pest Management: biological control, smother crops, trap crops, weed ecology
  • Production Systems: agroecosystems, holistic management, organic agriculture, permaculture
  • Soil Management: green manures, organic matter

    Proposal summary:

    In the Northeast, fruit crops and many vegetable crops depend on insect pollinators for optimal fruit set and yield. The honeybee and native pollinator population declines that we are experiencing have the potential to significantly reduce fruit and vegetable crop yields. Cover crops are traditionally used to build soil organic matter, prevent erosion, suppress weeds, and scavenge nitrogen. Another category that should be added to this multipurpose list is that of pollinator and beneficial insect floral resource.

    We have not seen cover crop research on Phacelia, buckwheat or bee forage mixes that also measure their value as native pollinator resources. This study would provide a quantitative and
    qualitative evaluation of Phacelia, buckwheat and a commercial bee forage mix as multipurpose cover crops for pollinator conservation, beneficial insectaries and weed suppressors.

    We will use replicated plots and 3 planting times to collect data on flowering phenology, populations of pollinators, beneficials, and pest insects, weediness, and cover-crop re-establishment the following year. The data will be analyzed and results promoted through an on-farm field day, grower meetings, social media such as Facebook and YouTube and other means. This study will contribute to a better understanding of on-farm pollinator conservation resources that can be integrated into practical farm management. This is very important for the future of sustainable agriculture in the Northeast.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    To evaluate Phacelia's attributes and to learn more about buckwheat and a bee forage mix, we will do three plantings over the 2013 growing season, -late spring, mid summer, and late summer. Each planting will have 3 replicates of each cover crop for a total of 9 plots. Individual plots will be 160 square feet (8'x20') set up in a
    randomized complete block design. We will block to account for different weed populations and to keep time of day and weather during data collection similar (one block at a time). We want to carry this research over into a second year to determine the potential for self-seeding in these plots and to further evaluate weed suppression.

    Native pollinator populations will be observed by setting up a permanent 3 square foot quadrangle in each plot and observing each quadrangle for 5 minutes on a weekly basis or as soon as the weather permits (above 55 degrees, no rain). Other beneficials such as parasitic wasps, lacewings, ladybugs and pests such as tarnished plant bug will be sampled by 10 sweeps of a standard sweep net/plot after the observation work is done.

    Flowering phenology will also be observed weekly after the observation period. Data will be collected from the permanent quadrangle on number of stems/ft2, and number of open flowers/stem. On the same day I will also collect percentage flowering phenology data on my different cultivated fruit species to determine the potential for pollinators being pulled away from the fruit.

    Weed observations will be conducted three times for each plot. Once before flowering, once when the flowering period is over and once in 2014. Weeds will be counted in three randomly chosen moveable quadrangles in each plot. Species and density will be noted.

    Reseeding potential will be documented in 2014 by determining the number of stems (by plant species for the bee forage mix) per ft2 in mid summer.

    We would also like to use remote and manual video taping to document peak nectar flows and pollinator visits.

    We would plan to make a video explaining the research project and showing the different stages of growth of the cover crops and sampling techniques that we are going to use.

    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.