Fruit & Vegetable Magazine

Features Fruit Production
Going native


April 23, 2014
By Dan Woolley

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Robyn McCallum plans to monitor the abundance of native bees during the buckwheat feeding trials but is also keeping an eye open for bumblebees.

Dalhousie University student Robyn McCallum is all abuzz about her research project reexamining ways to encourage native bees to proliferate.

“I am really conscious, because I am a farmer, that bee management techniques have to be simple, yet successful to work for producers because of time management constraints,” says the Faculty of Agriculture graduate student.

Buckwheat is a key component of her research project, entitled Improving Native Bee Abundance Through Operation Pollinator. It is also an annual flowering crop that is easily established in nutrient-poor soil and smothers encroaching weeds. Its long flowering period provides bees with a good food supply of nectar and pollen, McCallum recently explained during the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia’s winter meeting.

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Through her research project, she will be using trap housing to monitor Osmia (native bee species) plus testing and monitoring buckwheat as a food source for native bees compared to non-buckwheat plants.

McCallum plans to monitor the abundance of native bees during the buckwheat feeding trials but will also be keeping an eye open for bumblebees. She believes more bumblebee queens will be found the following spring on wild blueberry fields adjacent to buckwheat plots.

Bumblebees are good pollinators, but they require feeding throughout the growing season, she explained, adding that five of the wild blueberry fields she will be using in her study will have adjacent buckwheat planted plots, while five fields will not. All 10 fields are to be tested in the spring of 2015 to try and net all bumblebee queens, she added, which will be difficult since sampling conditions have to be at least 15 Celsius with little or no clouds.

McCallum’s overwintering strategy calls for roofed trap housing with two styles of roofing, one of which will extend the edge of the roof to help keep precipitation out of the bee entrance holes in the trap/houses. She will also char the surface of some of the houses, which will cause them to absorb sunlight better to warm the housing for the bees. Charring also helps the bees to see and locate their home.

“If tests go the way we think they will, there is a potential to increase bee populations, with less reliance on managed (honey bees),” she said.

Buckwheat can be planted close to wild blueberry fields without ill effect on wild blueberry production, she added, but it is very important to schedule buckwheat flower production after the wild blueberry bloom.

“We do not want to distract the bees from wild blueberry pollination,” said McCallum.

She is also urging any wild blueberry producers who spray for spotted wing Drosophila to not spray on buckwheat-planted plots.