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Blue Orchard Bees Increase Cherry Pollination

Robert White
Orland, CA

Last year was extremely difficult because of the rains. I grow 20% Brooks and 80%Tulare cherries on 4 acres. I planted all of the trees in 1996. In 2004 we put out approximately 400 BOB's and our production went up about 22% to  7,289#'s Brooks as of May14 and 24,844#'s of Tulares of May 19th.  In 2005 we put out 1200 BOB's but because of damaged cherries we made one color pick through the Brooks and left the majority on the trees, 7,902#'s to the packing shed as of May 4th. The Tulare is less susceptible to cracking yet it was still sad with damaged cherries being left on the orchard floor. We brought 54,069#'s of Tulares to the packing shed, mostly 9.5 and 10 row plus another 3,000#'s to farmer's markets. The pack-outs were my lowest ever, again because of damaged fruit but because of the volume all was not lost.
I put the bees out in 2004 and provided reeds and cardboard tubes for nests in nesting boxes. I had some success with the bees but was disappointed by the number of cocoons.  I was getting ready to grind a shaper blade to groove some boards when I happened upon your site, perfect! I have noticed that borers seem to be attracted to darker damaged wood in the orchard and since this is a natural site for BOB's I painted the front of your binderboard with a flat black latex. I had a fair return on bees and noticed a lot less predator damage in the straws from the binderboard. I monitored the development of the bees and put them in refrigeration as soon as they reached the adult stage.


Here’s something to think about.  With 4 acres, your population of 1200 bees may be close to the carrying capacity of your orchard.  When the bee population is much below carrying capacity the bee population growth tends to be rapid so you can easily get a tripling for the next year.  However, if you are near the carrying capacity of the orchard, the bee population probably won’t increase as rapidly because there will be more competition for flowers.  In addition, you should watch carefully for parasites and predators, which tend to find the bees easier when the bees are more abundant.  If your bees do well this year and you are satisfied with the pollination, you may want to try to hold the population at about ±1200 (about 300 per acre), and sell your excess straws.   If you want to sell the straws, keep an eye out for parasites and predators, which could decrease the value of the bees.  If you start to see parasites, you may want to switch to loose cocoon management so you (or whoever you sell to) can more easily remove defective cocoons.

There are several publications from the USDA ARS Bee Biology and Systematics Research Lab in Logan about increases in cherry pollination with blue orchard bees:

Bosch, J., Kemp, W.P., 1999. Exceptional Cherry Production in an Orchard Pollinated with Blue Orchard Bees. Bee World. 80:163-173.

Bosch, J., Kemp, W.P., Trostle, G.E. 2005. Bee Population Returns And Cherry Yields In An Orchard Pollinated With Osmia Lignaria (Hymenoptera: Megachilidae). Journal of Economic Entomology. 99(2):408-413.

-Karen Strickler, Pollinator Paradise

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