Improving Pollination in the Southwest: Testing the on farm feasibility of establishing and managing the carpenter bee for multiple crop farming systems
Pollination, an essential process insuring the productivity of agricultural yields is currently under threat by a myriad of causes, ranging from habitat fragmentation to the overuse of pesticides. Habitats for wild bees (the most diverse and important group responsible for crop pollination) can be improved on and around farms to increase pollination services and prevent potential losses in crop yields.
The native southern Arizona carpenter bee is being tested as a potential crop pollinator in southern Arizona on a variety of crops and small farms. The carpenter bee visits flowers on melons, multiple varieties of squash, tomatoes chiles and eggplant.
Farmers have often used the services of beekeepers to have honeybees pollinate their crops, but due to both the infestation of mites and the invasion of africanized bees many beekeepers have gotten out of the business. Many farmers who may have kept honey bees have also ceased this activity due to the increased risk of getting Africanized bee colonies. Thus, there is a gap in pollination services needed to produce good crops. Many bees native to the southwest can potentially be used as crop pollinators.
We are developing techniques/protocols that consist of rearing, housing and managing the carpenter bee. Carpenter bees are large-bodied jet black bees that can be found throughout most of the United States.
Species in the southwestern United States typically nest in plants in natural habitat that often occurs near farmland.
In combination of creating habitat and managing bee houses farmers can guarantee that their crops will get pollinated, resulting in bigger better vegetable and fruit production.
Many of the techniques we are developing can be replicated for carpenter bees found in the southeast and on a more general level can be applied to other potential crop pollinators.
- Develop protocols to be used by farmers for integrating native pollinators into farming systems.
Translocate and establish viable populations of carpenter bees on farms using fence rows constructed out of Sotol, Agave and Yucca stalks.
Assess the feasibility of the carpenter bee as a crop pollinator.
Disseminate information to farmers on the use of native pollinators in farming systems.
In the 2000/2001 field season we translocated active nests from the wild to the farm fields. These populations are acting as the founder groups.
We are improving this method by using artificial nest structures which will be more durable. We have constructed multiple types of nest structures and are currently improving the design to meet the following criteria, reusability, inexpensive material, observability, and Plexiglass, balsa wood, redwood, discarded lumber, discarded plant materials.
Out of the multiple nest types we have perfected a transportable system that includes the following:
-replaceable nest material insert made out of balsa wood
-an outer sheath that is weatherproof and reusable
-a hinged back door with a plexiglass shield which enables producers to check on the nesting bees
We are creating a plastic laminate 8×14 sheet that can be taken into the field and has color photos of the most common native pollinators that can be found on a small farm
We are currently developing an easy to understand guide on collecting, raising and rearing carpenter bees for use in farm pollination. The guide will also include information on how to enhance the habitat surrounding farms to benefit carpenter bees and other pollinators by planting beneficial host plants.
We have been captive raising multiple wild colonies of carpenter bees since last summer in laboratory conditions.
We successfully conducted several translocation experiments in the year 2000 to determine how easily carpenter bees could be transported between farms. At the NSS farm we placed out 22 active nests. A nest can typically have 1 mother , multiple sisters and multiple offspring. The number of individuals can range from 6 to 25. We placed 16 active nests at the Tubac farm site. All active nests were collected from areas in the Santa Rita Mountains within a 30 mile range of the farms. All of the nests were transported to a field site in Tucson where they were observed for a week then were transported to the farms. This was conducted in order to determine if the bees can relocate their nests and reorient to different surroundings after having them displaced. We found that there was a 100% relocation rate of moving the active nests to each farm site.
Nests were also placed in the University of Arizona Hydroponic Greenhouse teaching facility. This state of the art facility was constructed last year and is used to grow tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. In collaboration with Dr. Pat Rorabaugh we placed carpenter bee nests in the greenhouse after bumblebee colonies were removed. Initial observations showed little activity by the carpenter bees which may be a result of multiple factors. 1) the bees were finished with their brood cycle so foraging was kept to a minimum. 2) The greenhouse panels are constructed of a polycarbonate material that blocks much of the incoming UV light. Bees use UV light to navigate, low levels of UV light may cause disorientation among foragers resulting in shorter flights. More nests will be installed in the spring of 2002.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
- Dr. Stephen L Buchmann , Tohono Chul Park, Public Lecture. Talk on the use of native pollinators in gardening and small farms. Summer 2000 Tucson Arizona.
Dr. Stephen L Buchmann, Talk on the use of native pollinators in gardening and small farms. Western Regional Master Gardener Conference “Growing Through Knowledge” October, 2000 Mesa, Arizona
Dr. Suzanne Nelson, Article in the Native Seeds/SEARCH newsletter Seedhead News, The article gave an overview of the project. Winter Solstice #71 2000
Dr. Stephen L Buchmann, Tucson Hydroponic Gardeners Association. Talk on the current use of bumblebees in greenhouse vegetable production and the potential use of carpenter bees for greenhouse vegetable production. January, 2001, Tucson, AZ.
Jim Donovan,University of Arizona/Pima County Cooperative Extension Garden Center Agricultural Extension Summer Program. Talk to 4-8 graders on using native pollinators in gardening/farming will include live demonstration of carpenter bees. July 2001 Tucson Arizona
Dr. Stephen L Buchmann, University of Arizona/Pima County Cooperative Extension Garden Center Agricultural Extension Summer Program. Talk to 4-8 graders on using native pollinators in gardening/farming will include live demonstration of carpenter bees. July, 2001 Tucson, Arizona
Dr. Stephen L. Buchmann, November, 2001 University of Arizona/Pima County Cooperative Extension Garden Center Agricultural Extension, Master Gardeners. Slideshow and talk given to over 50 Master Gardeners and urban farmers on how to integrate native pollinators into gardens and small farms.
The Bee Works
1870 West Prince Rd suite 16
Tucson, AZ 85705
Office Phone: 5208887422