Farming for native bees
‘Farming for Native Bees’ is a 4-year project (2007-2010) to survey native bees associated with cucurbit and certain 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.
From May – September 2009, a total of 150 transects in 40 locations were sampled for bees, in a wide variety of locations across Delaware. Locations include farms, state parks, a wildlife area, a nature center and two farm-oriented museums. Specimen processing is underway and species identification will occur over the next several months. Since the pilot project year 2006, a total of 121 species have been identified, which represents nearly two thirds the bee species recorded for Delaware by the American Museum of Natural History. Included in this number are 18 state record bees, species that had not before been collected in Delaware. Fifteen farm assessments were completed, and seven were reviewed in meetings with farmers. Farmers are in the process of acting on the recommendations in the assessments. The project was highlighted at 7 displays or presentations, in settings ranging from Ag Week and the State Fair to Day on the Farm.
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.
Milestone 1: (accomplished) 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.
Milestone 2: (accomplished) Farmers will review the initial field guide and provide feedback-late 2007.
Milestone 3: (nearly accomplished) 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.
The bee surveys, hereafter called farm assessment reports, provide an opportunity to present data that has been collected from each site including bees, flowering plants and crops, and 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 during 2009. Farmers agreed to implement certain changes, and sent us back a letter documenting their plans. In 2009 we completed an additional 11 assessment reports, utilizing an improved and streamlined report format. An example of the initial farm assessment is included as Farm Assessment 1, and the streamlined format as Farm Assessment 2.
We simplified the reports in an effort to focus more 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, due to lack of interest, but discussed general habitat types as identified using state GIS archive data and aerial photos. Third, bee data was focused on, 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 that would benefit the 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 included developing 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. We reviewed assistance programs available through NRCS and their pollinator habitat specific programs (EQIP and WHIP) and provided local contact information.
Milestone 4: (in progress) 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.
Milestone 5: (accomplished) Data obtained on native bee populations in 2006-2008 will be presented to NRCS and/or CREP programs and offered to farmers-January 2009.
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 was held on January 8, 2009 during the 2009 Delaware Agriculture Week. The program featured 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.
Milestone 6: (two farmers signed up, 1 EQIP and 1 CSP) At least 3 farmers will sign onto an NRCS or Sate conservation program that incorporates native bees-June 2009.
Milestone 7: (in progress) Final evaluation of project-June 2010.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
Farm A: Planted floral border between crop and forest edge.
Farm B: Displayed native bee collection during a fall education event, and is dedicated to continuing squash production for the squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa.
Farm C: After obtaining specifications to manufacture cavity nesting bee habitat plans to put several around the farm property for the 2010 bee emergence.
Farm D: Has taken invasive species out of their filter strips, and reseeded with native wildflowers. Also has put several cavity nesting bee blocks in the front, unforested, portion of the property to provide bee habitat.
McCulloch Consulting Services, LLC
112 Crestwood Road
Landenberg, PA 19350
Office Phone: 4845088110
Sarver Ecological Consulting
6 Walnut Ridge
Wilmington, DE 19807
Office Phone: 7246895845
Delaware Department of Agriculture
2320 S. Dupont Highway
Dover, DE 19901
Office Phone: 3026984588