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Increasing Your Wild Orchard Pollinators

Mike Basedow, Tree Fruit Specialist
Eastern New York Commercial Horticulture

June 11, 2018

Last week while we were nearing petal fall in the Champlain Valley, a grower and I were discussing when he ought to take his honey bees out of the orchard, which led us to discussing the role wild bees are playing in his orchard. These wild bees help pollinate our crop every year, so I think it is worth reviewing some of the different kinds of bees we can expect to see at bloom, and what we can do to encourage their visits.

Over 100 wild bee species visit orchards in the Northeast.  Many of these bees are native, and can be very good at pollinating fruit trees when their populations are in sufficient numbers close to the orchard. 

Unlike honey bees, many wild bee species are solitary, living in their own nests. Some of these bees build nests underground, and are therefore referred to as ground nesting bees. Bees in this group include cellophane bees, mining bees, and sweat bees.  These bees prefer to build their nests where the ground is bare and the soils are well-drained, so a relatively simple way to increase these pollinator populations near your orchard is to leave some areas of ground free of vegetation.

Tunneling bees are another common group of wild pollinators. This group tunnels into dead trees and wooden structures, or takes up residence in other open cavities. This group includes mason bees and carpenter bees.  To increase your farm's tunneling bee populations, consider maintaining a woodpile on your property that the bees can use a nesting site. Having hedgerows and wooded areas around your orchard blocks will also provide good nesting areas. If you would like to take an even more hands-on approach, you might consider building nesting boxes to place on the edge of your orchard.

A third common group of pollinators includes honey bees and bumble bees. These bees are social, living together in groups, and build their nests into preexisting cavities. Similar to what you might do to increase populations of tunneling bees, having wooded areas near your orchard blocks will help bring more cavity nesting bees into the orchard at bloom, as will having a woodpile nearby. 

In addition to providing areas in your orchards for nesting sites, wild bees need to have enough flowering plants throughout the growing season to forage while the fruit trees are not in bloom. Some bees, like bumble bees, are active throughout the entire growing season, while our apples might only be in bloom for a week. Since many orchards in Eastern NY are located near wooded areas, there are many wild plants in bloom around the orchard throughout the growing season already. You and your neighbors probably have many other flowering plants on your property, and weeds along the roadside also provide a food source for the wild bees. To hedge your bets further, you may consider planting a few strips of flowering plants near your orchard blocks. Just be sure to choose plants that do not bloom at the same time as your fruit trees.

Distance can be an important factor in how well wild bees may help pollinate your blocks.  Some bees, like honey bees and bumble bees, can fly over a mile from their nests, while others may fly less than 500 yards from their nesting site.  This may limit wild bee pollination in blocks where a large portion of the trees is over 500 yards from the periphery of the orchard, where nesting sites and other food sources are available. 

So, while honey bees will continue to be our go-to pollinators, you might consider some of the small steps you can take to make your site even more attractive to our wild pollinators. 

For more detailed information, including color photos of the bees mentioned here, please see the publication Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards and How to Conserve Them by Mia Park et al., 2012.


Citations:

Park, M., et al. 2012. Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards and How to Conserve Them. Cornell University, Penn State University, and The Xerces Society. URL: http://www.northeastipm.org/pa... 



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Upcoming Events

ENY Orchard Soil Health and Beneficial Fungi Meeting

August 15, 2024 : ENY Orchard Soil Health and Beneficial Fungi Meeting
Peru, NY

The soils that we grow our trees in play a critical role in the success of our orchard's productivity.  Mycorrhizal fungi provide many benefits to the soils, though it is still unclear to what extent inoculating our soils with commercial blends of these fungi may have on the growth of trees during orchard establishment.

Join the members of CCE ENYCHP and the Cornell Soil Health Program for a field meeting on the basics of soil health, the potential benefits of mycorrhizal fungi, and an update on the current project status of our SARE grant on orchard mycorrhizal products.

This meeting is intended for farmworkers, young and beginning orchardists, and experienced orchard managers wanting to learn about the basics of soil health and mycorrhizal fungi within the orchard.

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August 19, 2024 : North Point Community Farm Twilight Meeting
Plattsburgh, NY

North Point Community Farm Twilight Meeting

Monday, August 19th 4-7 pm (rain or shine)

2172 Military Turnpike, Plattsburgh, NY 12901

$10 per farm

Join us for a tour of North Point Community Farm, a diversified vegetable, berry, and flower operation in the North Country. Farmers Marisa and Mike will give us an overview of their decision-making as they expand their business, increasing their high tunnel production, investing in new tillage equipment, and transforming an old dairy barn into an efficient wash-pack shed with food safety in mind. We'll end the evening with local food refreshments and an opportunity to network with growers from NY and VT.

DEC credits: 1.5 credits in categories 1A, 10, 23

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September 16, 2024 : Drinkwine Produce Twilight Meeting
Ticonderoga, NY

Drinkwine Produce Twilight Meeting

Monday, September 16th 4-6 pm (rain or shine)

1512 Street Rd, Ticonderoga, NY 12883

Join us for discussions on high tunnel tomato production and sweet corn and pumpkin IPM at Drinkwine Produce in Ticonderoga. Henry Drinkwine will provide an overview of his practices for maintaining high yields of tomatoes, including pollination and soil fertility management. In the second half of the meeting, CCE specialist Chuck Bornt will review integrated pest management for sweet corn and pumpkins, with hands-on scouting and identification of key pests and diseases.

DEC Credits: 1.5 credits in categories 1A, 10, 23

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