Farming for native bees

2008 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 4-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 3 farmers will sign onto an NRCS conservation program, designed to provide long-term favorable habitat for native bees. 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.


During the 2008 field season, a total of 170 transects were sampled for bees, in a wide variety of locations across Delaware. Locations include 37 farms, 7 state parks, a wildlife area, a nature center and two farm-oriented museums. An approximate total of 850 acres was sampled across the state. Specimen processing is underway and species identification will occur over the next several months. Including the pilot project year 2006, to date approximately 6500 bee specimens have been collected. A total of 92 species have been identified, which represents nearly half of the bee species recorded for Delaware by the American Museum of Natural History. Included in this number are 14 state record bees, species that had not before been collected in Delaware.

Milestone 2

Farmers will review the initial field guide and provide feedback-late 2007. In the first quarter 2008, a field guide to the native bees of Delaware was published and distributed. This publication introduced 7 groups of bees important to vine crop pollination: bumble 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 bees detected on their farm and to highlight basic field identification traits. Farmers receiving the guide were encouraged to sign up for an assessment designed to help them develop a specific plan for bee conservation on their farm.

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 was held on January 8, as part of Delaware’s annual Vegetable Growers Conference during the 2008 Delaware Agriculture Week. The workshop was organized by the Delaware Department of Agriculture, with assistance from the University of Delaware’s Cooperative Extension, and featured speakers from Delaware and surrounding states. More than 100 people attended, including beekeepers, farmers, and university students. The workshop highlighted bees important to crop pollination, such as bumble, squash, mason, and honey bees. Pesticide management for bee conservation, farm conservation management for bees, and other related subjects were discussed. At the end of the conference farmers, had the opportunity to register their interest in an on-site assessment, conducted by the project team. The assessment would include a recommended action plan, and request for a written commitment to make changes.

Eight farmers expressed an interest in having the assessment conducted on their farm. One of the eight was deferred until 2009, as the individual had signed up with the project in 2007, and thus only one year of bee population data had been collected. Development of the assessment template proved to be a challenging and time-consuming activity. There was considerable discussion about the format, appropriate level of detail, and which biotic and abiotic factors were critical for data collection. It was decided to defer until 2009 the additional 8 farms needed to reach the 15-farm milestone stated in the project. Also, as this was a new format and new type of integrated analysis, lessons learned and efficiencies gained in the 2008 assessments could assist in making the 2009 studies more streamlined. The 2008 assessments were designated “Group I” and the 2009, “Group II”.

Each farm represents a unique mix of cropped land, woodland, and land designated for other uses. For this reason, a farm assessment tool was developed to consider the unique layout and practices of each farm, and based on this, make recommendations for bee conservation practices. Farmers were interviewed to determine their conservation philosophy, cropping history, tillage methods and production mix. A separate series of questions was developed to elucidate the pesticide products used and application patterns. The questionnaire was followed up with telephone calls to clarify points or request input. GIS maps were developed for each farm, mapping out production areas and surrounding land use polygons. Polygons surrounding production fields were then carefully examined for vegetation mix, soil types, and suitability for bee habitat. Coupled with this information was survey results from 2+ years of baseline bee population sampling on these farms. Species abundance curves are utilized to compare species richness. The final format for Group I assessments is as follows:

Site Overview
Past and Current Farm Practices

Current Conditions and Recommended Improvements
Bee Sampling Summary
General Land Use
Crops and detailed recommendations
Cropped areas and detailed recommendations
Non-cropped areas and detailed recommendations

Summary of Recommendations
Tier 1 – changes in management practices
Tier 2 – basic, low cost or do-it-yourself improvements
Tier 3 – higher investment improvements

NRCS Programs Available
Date reports completed
Pesticide information
Farm photos
Farm native plant list
Farm invasive plant list
Resources and contacts

Tables and Figures
1. A list of native plants recommended for pollinators
2. List of native bees collected on farm, 2006-2008.
3. List of native bees targeted for management on farm
4. Land cover estimates for farm
5. Habitat types within 1 km surrounding farm
6. Soil map

Group I participants will be sent a DRAFT of their farm’s assessment, and an appointment scheduled during January and February 2009 to review the document and recommendations with the assessment team. Recommendations are separated into 3 tiers, of increased complexity and cost. Farmers will be asked to consider at least 3 changes they will commit to making, their bee conservation plan. Approximately 2 weeks after the assessment meeting, farmers will be asked to sign a letter of commitment to enact this plan.

Milestone 5

Data obtained on native bee populations in 2006-2008 will be presented to NRCS and/or CREP programs and offered to farmers-January 2009.

Because the 2008 Farm Bill included new programs and incentives for pollinator conservation, work on this milestone began ahead of schedule. Delaware NRCS approached the Native Bee project team to assist with development of specific practices for consideration of cost share. The team was diverted from assessment work to assisting with the incorporation of cost-share practices for pollinator management into the 2009 NRCS EQIP program. The first round of EQIP program applications were accepted in October. With NRCS input, the project team developed a letter outlining the new program and encouraging farmers to contact their local NRCS office for details. The letter was then sent to all farms participating in the native bee project. A Pollinator Biology and Technical Note, setting the standards for implementation of pollinator practices will be developed in 2009 by one of the project team members, under a separate grant with Delaware NRCS.

To assist NRCS in generating farmer’s interest in the new pollinator protection programs available through EQIP, the Bee Project Team developed the workshop, “Pollinators and Pollination Services in the 2008 Farm Bill. This will be held on January 8, 2009 during the 2009 Delaware Agriculture Week. The program will feature a discussion of EQIP and State landowner incentive programs, and presentations highlighting set-aside and buffer strip benefits to bees, birds, and butterflies. A letter was sent to all Bee project participants, notifying them of this free workshop. The Delaware and Maryland Beekeepers associations were also notified, along with a bee listserv.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

During 2008, team members gave a total of 18 presentations to state, regional and national audiences, and presented 15 displays and a number of childrens’ programs.

Two publications funded by NRCS, “Delaware Native Plants for Native Bees” and “Farm Management for Native Bees, a guide for Delaware” were made available for farmers and the general public, along with the Northeast SARE funded “Farming for Native Bees in Delaware”. All 3 guides are also posted on the Delaware Department of Agriculture’s website:

Chuck Hurd, a Harrington, Delaware farmer and participant in the “Farming for Native Bees” project was chosen to receive the 2008 Farmer-Rancher Conservation Award from the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign and the National Association of Conservation Districts. This award recognizes an individual in the farm and ranch community in the U.S. who has contributed significantly to pollinator species protection and conservation on working lands. The award was presented to Mr. Hurd on October 22, 2008 at a reception hosted by the NAPPC and Inter-American Biodiversity Information Network, held at the Organization of American States headquarters in Washington, DC. This award was covered by a number of state and national media outlets.

In honor of National Pollinator Week, June 23-27, 2008 and the Governor’s proclamation of Pollinator Week in Delaware, the Delaware Department of Agriculture hosted Open Garden Day on June 26 at its headquarters in Dover. Events included a ribbon cutting at the Department’s Pollinator Garden. Displays and presentations focused on the critical role that bees play in the production of fruit and seeds, and the importance of bee conservation. The event was attended by more than 80 members of the public.


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