Farming for Native Bees

2016 Annual Report for SW14-011

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2014: $247,649.48
Projected End Date: 03/31/2018
Grant Recipient: UC Berkeley
Region: Western
State: California
Principal Investigator:

Farming for Native Bees


In mid-2014, in partnership with Western SARE, PI Dr. Gordon Frankie began work on Farming for Native Bees, an innovative project that constructs and monitors high quality native bee habitats on farms in Ventura County, Southern California. The following report describes the objectives accomplished during the second grant period (December 2015-December 2016). This includes:

  1. Pan traps, aerial collections and frequency counts were conducted, evidencing low bee abundance and diversity likely due to the severe ongoing drought.
  1. Installation of 1 additional acre of bee-attractive perennials at the James Lloyd-Butler Farm.
  1. Streamlined interview developed for a second round of interviews with partner farmers.
  1. Targeted outreach to stakeholders in the form of presentations to the California Avocado Society, a presentation to local middle school students, and a popular article reaching regional producers and agency staff.
  1. General outreach to diverse audiences across California through presentations, conferences, and a peer-reviewed publication.
  1. Completion of the Technology Diffusion Modules and ToolKit Manual.
  1. Launch of the Pollinator Habitat Advisor pilot project with a UC Berkeley student.
  1. Project evaluation through an Annual Retreat and communications with farm partners.

Objectives/Performance Targets

  1. Field Research

Native Bee Monitoring

The drought continues to severely impact our study sites (see US Drought Monitor_California), as native bees are sensitive to environmental conditions and may not emerge during dry years. Three trips were made to Ventura between mid-March and mid-June 2016. Pan traps and aerial collections were conducted at all sites to measure local bee diversity and abundance, but collections were sparse. Frequency counts were made on avocados with the goal of identifying native bee visitors and their rates of visitation, however, only honey bees were observed. Additional trips were made in January (before monitoring) and in summer and fall (after monitoring) to install habitat in Jim Lloyd-Butler’s orchard and Ellwood Canyon Ranch.

These conditions represent a significant challenge to measuring impacts of installed habitat as data may not reflect bee populations in “normal” years. Our findings may indicate that local bee species may not be able to provide reliable services in extreme drought conditions. They may also mean that more needs to be done – larger habitats need to be constructed in closer proximity to crops and/or natural areas to draw in and sustain bees. Changes in weather patterns may be a result of climate change, and no one knows what the “new normal” will be. Long-term monitoring (minimum 5 and ideally 10 years) would be required to identify strong trends.


Curate and Identify Specimens

Collections have been sparse, but identifications are still critical as they will tell us what bee species are present during drought conditions, and what kinds of host plants might sustain them – important information if such weather patterns continue. All collected specimens have been curated, with labels that include the date, collection method (pan vs. aerial), and host flower (if applicable). These have been transferred to Dr. Robbin Thorp at UC Davis to be identified to species level. These specimens will form the basis of our Prescriptive Treatments, allowing us to identify the species that were visiting the crop flowers and measure their visitation frequencies.


  1. Economic Analysis

Unfortunately, Ms. Marylee Guinon, who was project lead for the socio-economic analysis, has dropped from project due to some serious health issues. She had already made important contributions to the project, however, by developing the interview questionnaire, conducting initial interviews with partner farmers, and meeting several times with UC Cooperative Extension team member Dr. Ben Faber. These initial interviews helped us to revise and streamline the interview questions to focus on key topics. The updated questionnaire has just been completed, and will be reviewed by Dr. Ben Faber during our upcoming site visit. The final questionnaire will be sent to subjects in advance to prep for the interviews. Project Manager Sara Leon-Guerrero plans to conduct all interviews with farmers in March of this year. Although the second set of interviews are somewhat behind schedule, the additional time has allowed us to build relationships with farmer partners, which we hope will result in more open and thorough responses. Concurrent interviews will be taking place with Brentwood farmers, offering insight on regional differences.


  1. Farmer/Agricultural Outreach

By invitation from Dr. Ben Faber, 3 talks were conducted in January of 2016 that brought project information directly to our key stakeholder group – avocado farmers. The talks were part of the California Avocado Society’s 2016 seminar series, which are held in collaboration with the California Avocado Commission and UC Cooperative Extension. The talks reached a total of 300 growers in San Luis Obispo, Ventura and Fallbrook. Phil McGrath now regularly uses the bee garden for his farm tours. 

Although monitoring and maintenance of installed habitat has ceased (see previous report), the McGrath Family Farm continues to be a key venue for local outreach and education. Phil made the decision to adopt the project, and now maintains and has even expanded the habitat on his own. Local outreach and education appear to be critical components of his operation, and the bee habitat contributes to these efforts, signaling that it may have value to farmers beyond its ability to attract crop pollinators. In 2016, ~500 people visited the garden as part of his farm tour. We also gave 1 talk to middle school students at the Farm. Phil may become a key proponent of the project as he serves on numerous agriculture-related boards. We hope to gather further insight on his decision-making through our socio-economic interview sessions.


  1. General Outreach

Outreach and educational efforts have continued to feature strongly in our ongoing work, and far exceeded our goals for this year. We gave a total of 27 presentations, 3 hands-on workshops, and 7 garden tours providing general information on native bees and results from our various projects. We also offered informational exhibits at 5 events, and presented at 7 major conferences. These reached over 2,740 people across California and beyond. PI Dr. Gordon Frankie was also interviewed for 2 radio shows with North State and St. Louis Public Radios, whose estimated audience is approximately 2,000 per show. Please see Presentation List 2016.

The Urban Bee Lab website, now translated into Spanish, continues to draw traffic: it now averages 1,257 unique visitors a week and 3,100 page views a week. We received 120 messages to which we responded (presentation requests, and questions about bee identification, plant selection, etc.). Membership to our online newsletter continues to grow – we now have almost 1,200 subscribers who receive project information on a bi-monthly basis (see The Buzz Volume 11 �� and The Buzz Volume 12  ��). Our findings are also disseminated via our Facebook page to over 1,200 members. A contract has been signed with the University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources to publish our flip booklet field guide for common native bee species, which was another of our project deliverables. The peer-reviewed publication will consist of a set of 45 beautiful, full color identification cards.

Publications included a popular article, entitled Native Bees in the Avocado Orchards, which was published in The Grove by the California Avocado Commission (see The Grove_Summer 2016). Hard copies reach some 4,000 subscribers (3,500 farmers, and 500 agency and other stakeholders). The publication is freely available on their website (see publications/from-the-grove). The other article accompanied a presentation given at the Organic Agriculture Research Symposium (see below).


  1. Pollinator Habitat Advisor (PHA)

We are thrilled to report that we launched our Pollinator Habitat Advisor Pilot Program during the fall semester of 2016 with 1 UC Berkeley undergraduate student. This 12-month program involves intensive training, which follows the format of the Technology Diffusion Modules. The trainee is assigned 1 module per week, with supplemental reading where appropriate. Weekly meetings with the Program Lead review topics from the previous week, as well as topics, readings and hands-on activities for the coming week. Questions and requests for more information are noted, and will be used to revise and augment the syllabus.

Fall Semester has focused on basics of native bee farming, including designing and implementing habitats. Applied, on-the-ground learning is central to the program, and the trainee is using the new prescriptive treatment for cherries to develop a habitat plan that renovates an old hedgerow that has not been maintained at Frog Hollow Farm. The trainee has already made 3 field visits, and has met with Farmer Al Courchesne. She presented the plan to Al for his approval in November of 2016, and implemented it in early December with the help of Al and his workers (see Habitat Plan_PHA Pilot). Spring Semester will focus on designing and implementing a monitoring protocol for the installed habitat.

By the end of the program, the trainee will have designed and monitored at least 2 habitats, and should qualify for the TSP Pollinator Habitat position. She will graduate from UC Berkeley by the end of the project, and plans to apply for the position in Spring 2017.


  1. Project Evaluation

Researchers met in January of 2017 for to discuss milestones and evaluate progress on all projects in relation to goals that had been set for the final project year. While there have been some divergences from expected outcomes, for the most part it appears that the project is on track for timely completion. In some instances, such as in our outreach efforts, we far exceeded our stated objectives. A calendar has been developed to keep team members on task to deliver final products by the end of the grant period.


Accomplishments this year included:

  1. Completion of 2nd year of monitoring
  2. Installation of an additional acre of perennials at the Lloyd-Butler Farm
  3. Publication of 2 articles
  4. 3 talks to local avocado growers
  5. Completion of the Technology Diffusion Modules and ToolKit Manual
  6. Outreach to over 2,740 Californians

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

In 2013, we partnered with California NRCS CIG to develop our findings into a set of video training modules that guides viewers in designing and installing their own native bee habitats. An early version of the Technology Diffusion Modules, were presented in January at the Organic Agriculture and Research Symposium (OARS) via powerpoint. OARS later published proceedings from the symposium (see 2.2.3-Guerrero_OARS Proceedings-Final), which included our paper describing how the modules serve as an important and compelling outreach tool that supports farmers in adopting habitat farming over the long-term.

Sections of the video versions of the modules, including Identifying Key Bee Species, Host Plant Selection and Habitat Site Selection, were debuted at the California Small Farms Conference in early March. We presented with Jessa Cruz (Xerces Society), Rachael Long (UC Cooperative Extension) and Farmer Al Courchesne (Frog Hollow Farm) primarily to farmers and some agency representatives. The response was extremely positive: the attendees were excited about the modules and were eager to have more detailed information on specific crop pollinators. The finalized Modules were delivered to California NRCS CIG in November of 2016, along with the ToolKit Manual (see ToolKit Manual and ToolKit Manual-Bee Profiles. The Plant Profiles were too large to be attached, but can be provided on request), which provides examples and activities to help farmers adapt native bee habitats to their unique operations. The ToolKit includes 36 plant profiles with photos, plant descriptions, seasonality, target bee species, resources provided (pollen/nectar) and tips on installation and maintenance. Ten profiles have already been drafted, along with 9 bee profiles, which provide similar information: up-close photos, a general description, nesting habits, pollen collection method, seasonality/flight season, floral hosts, and life history.


Dr. Gordon Frankie
Project Team Leader
UC Berkeley
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
Office Phone: 5106420973
Dave Pommer
Farmer Team Member
Thille Ranch
14053 Foothill Rd.
Santa Paula, CA 93060-9733
Office Phone: 8058901419
Phil McGrath
McGrath Family Farm
1012 West Ventura Blvd.
Camarillo, CA 93010-8318
Office Phone: 8054854210
Sara Guerrero
Academic Researcher Team Member
UC Berkeley
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
Office Phone: 5106420973
Dr. Ben Faber
Extension Outreach Team Member
UC Cooperative Extension Ventura County
UC Cooperative Extension
669 County Square Dr., Suite 100
Ventura, CA 93003
Office Phone: 8056451462
Jaime Pawelek
Academic Researcher Team Member
UC Berkeley
Environmental Science, Policy and Management
130 Mulford Hall #3114
Berkeley, CA 94720-3114
Office Phone: 5106420973
Marylee Guinon
Economic Team Member
Marylee Guinon LLC
354 Bohemian Highway
Freestone, CA 95472
Office Phone: 9252604346
Dr. Robbin Thorp
Academic Researcher Team Member
UC Davis
One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616-8584
Office Phone: 5307520475
Will Carleton
Farmer Team Member
Las Palmitas Farm
4210 Upson Rd.
Carpinteria, CA 93013
Office Phone: 8055669571
James Lloyd-Butler
Farmer Team Member
James Lloyd-Butler Family LLC
2317 Los Angeles Ave.
Oxnard, CA 93036
Office Phone: 8056477649