Farming for native bees

2007 Annual Report for LNE07-261

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2007: $93,991.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2011
Region: Northeast
State: Delaware
Project Leader:
Dr. Faith Kuehn
Plant Industries Administrator

Farming for native bees


Farming for Native Bees is a four-year project (2007-2010) that proposes to survey native bees associated with cucurbit/mixed organic crops in Delaware and make recommendations for management practices that will enhance pollinator populations. The findings, however, will benefit all farmers producing pollinator-dependant crops.

This project proposes to provide farmers with information on native bee populations and test measures to increase nesting sites, modify pesticide practices, and alter plantings on field margins. Results of these farm management modifications, as well as increased farmer and crop consultant awareness of native bees, will be surveyed before the project begins and monitored during the last year of the project. Project findings will be communicated through Cooperative Extension field days, Delaware Department of Agriculture events, and farmer meetings. Fact sheets and management guides about native bees will be developed and distributed as copy and on the Internet. A native bee management how-to book and field guide will be developed. Data will be presented to NRCS to facilitate refinement of existing Conservation Cover guidelines. Expected benefits include not only establishment of more sustainable cucurbit pollinator populations, but also expanded adoption of more pollinator-friendly farm management practices.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Of the 105 cucurbit farmers in Delaware/Maryland, 75 will develop an awareness of one or more native bees pollinating their crops. 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. At least three farmers will sign on to an NRCS conservation program, designed to provide long-term favorable habitat for native bees. At least two of the cucurbit farmers will incorporate lessons learned from the project into their agritourism displays to promote public awareness of agricultural conservation.


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. Following a conference in early 2007, an additional 11 farmers expressed an interest in the project, bringing the total to 32 participating farmers. Managers of Delaware’s State Park System and the Delaware Nature Society also expressed interest in the project, as a significant proportion of both properties have fields in agricultural production.

Milestone 2: Farmers will review the initial field guide and provide feedback-late 2007. The initial field guide to bees will be printed in time for a January workshop. The milestone timing has slipped a few months because the booklet is longer than originally planned and the team concluded that it would be better to issue the booklet at the yearly vine crops meeting. The field guide; ‘Farming for Native Bees in Delaware,’ is designed to introduce some of the native bees that have been sampled in Delaware and to provide management guidelines to assist farmers and landowners in developing techniques that will be beneficial to these species.

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. A Bees and Vine Crop Pollination workshop will be held on January 8, as part of the annual Vegetable Growers Conference. The workshop will feature presentations on different types of bees, pesticide management for bee conservation, farm conservation management for bees, and other related subject. At the end of the conference farmers will have the opportunity to register their interest. This will be followed with an on-site assessment, recommended action plan, and opportunity to commit to changes.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Developing public awareness – during 2007, team members gave a total of 20 presentations to state, regional and national audiences, and presented seven displays. Delaware’s leading newspaper, the News Journal, published two articles on the project. A general information brochure was developed and distributed (Enclosure 1. All enclosures, attachments, and supplementary material referenced in this report are available from both the project manager and Northeast SARE).

In March 2007, a letter was sent to Delaware farmers introducing the project and asking them to complete a survey. The survey included qu4estions on general interest in farming for native bees, the types and approximate acres of crops grown. This survey (Attachment 1) included questions about native bees, the types and approximate acres of crops grown, general farm management practices and interest in pollinator conservation programs. Seventy-eight surveys were distributed and 11 (14%) were completed and returned by mail. Follow-up telephone surveys were conducted for 36 (46%) of the distributed surveys. Of the completed surveys, only two expressed negative interest in participating in field surveys, however one was interested in future conservation programs designed specifically towards pollinators. The majority of the farms surveyed grew between one and 10 acres of cucurbits (64%). All of the farmers indicate having some knowledge about the general pollinators visiting their crops and 73 % currently utilize honey bees for pollination services.

Management practices including till vs. no-till areas, pesticide reduction zones, cover crops and buffer strips vary depending on the number of acres in production, type of crop and cultural farming beliefs. In summary, these types of farming techniques are used to some degree on every farm. However, only one farm in this survey is currently involved in a conservation management practice with the local farm service agency (NRCS) specifically; the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Ninety-one percent of the completed mail and telephone surveys expressed interest in pollinator conservation programs in the future.

In December an invitation letter and workshop agenda were sent to all the farmers and landowners participating in the Farming for Native Bees project in addition to interested parties with the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Delaware Natural Heritage Program, the Delaware Beekeepers Association, the Smithsonian Institute, and other interested parties. This workshop is designed to introduce some of the more common native bees found in Delaware, to assist growers in adapting native bee-friendly management practices and to encourage participation in native bee conservation planning.

During the 2007 field season, a total of 157 transects were sampled for bees, in a wide variety of locations across Delaware (Attachment 2). The number of native bee specimens collected totals nearly 4000 (Graphs 1-3). Species identifications are still being confirmed. Considering also data from the 2006 pilot study, to date a total of 80 species of bees have been identified. Included in this number are 7 state record bees, species that had not before been collected in Delaware.

To supplement this project, a grant was received from NRCS to develop and print two booklets. One will detail farm land management practices that will conserve populations of native bees. The second will highlight native wildflowers, trees and shrubs that will provide season-long nectar and pollen resources for native bees. Both publications will be available for the January 2008 workshop (Enclosures 2 and 3).


Bonnie MacCulloch

[email protected]
McCulloch Consulting Services, LLC
112 Crestwood Road
Landenberg, PA 19350
Office Phone: 4845088110
Matthew Sarver

[email protected]
Sarver Ecological Consulting
6 Walnut Ridge
Wilmington, DE 19807
Office Phone: 7246895845
Heather Harmon Disque

[email protected]
Delaware Department of Agriculture
2320 S. Dupont Highway
Dover, DE 19901
Office Phone: 3026984588