Establishing populations of ground-nesting native bees (Colletes) for orchard pollination services

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer
Funds awarded in 2017: $6,989.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2019
Grant Recipient: The Farm Between
Region: Northeast
State: Vermont
Project Leader:
John Hayden
The Farm Between


  • Fruits: apples


  • Crop Production: pollination, pollinator habitat
  • Natural Resources/Environment: biodiversity

    Proposal summary:

    Pollinator populations are in decline and fruit growers can no longer take their services for granted.
    Relying solely on honeybees for pollination of spring flowering crops is risky due to hive rental
    supply issues and potential adverse weather during bloom. Native species, including Colletes
    inaequalis, have been shown to be effective orchard pollinators. Here in the Northeast, Colletes bees
    are some of the first to emerge in the spring and are well adapted to adverse conditions. They can
    form large aggregations of hundreds of bees nesting in sandy soils, yet they have not been managed
    for pollination services. Another type of native, ground nesting bee, the alkali bee (Nomia
    melanderi), is used for pollination of alfalfa in the western U.S. and farmers have become adept at
    creating nesting conditions for them. We propose to take a similar approach with Colletes. We will
    explore three different strategies for establishing populations of managed Colletes bees in three
    orchards that we own or lease. Trials conducted over two growing seasons will be: 1) creating
    suitable ground nesting conditions alone, 2) creating suitable ground nesting conditions and
    introducing caged newly emerged adult bees, and 3) collecting pupae from existing aggregations in
    the fall and burying them in newly created ground nesting conditions. If successful, this will help the
    Project Leader’s diversified fruit farm with pollination goals and higher yields. Other fruit farmers
    will will learn about this research through presentations at grower meetings and an on-farm field day
    about managing native pollinators.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    The goal of this project is to improve native bee pollination services in Northeastern orchards. We
    want to know if it is possible to establish and manage aggregations of ground nesting bees,
    especially Colletes species. If one of our proposed methods proves successful, other farmers will be
    able to copy the model. The new populations of bees on our farm could also serve as a source of
    bees for other fruit farms. We now propose to try three different methods to establish populations in
    three different orchard sites, two with sandy loam soil and one with silty loam soil. These methods
    will be 1) creating suitable ground nesting environment by removing vegetation from habitat patches
    around all three orchards, and bringing in sand to an area of the silty loam based orchard, to see if
    bees will move in naturally, 2) creating suitable ground nesting environments in both orchards and
    caging within the nesting area newly emerged and captured adult bees, 3) creating suitable ground
    nesting environments in both orchards and seeding them in the fall with bee pupae dug from other
    heavily populated areas that we know about.

    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.