Mason Bees in Extension Services

Mason Bees in Extension Services

The following was shared as part of our celebration of the heroes of National Pollinator Week, 2016. 

Mason bee house in CREC orchard

Highlighting Pollinator Heroes

Kathleen Wiederholt; Fruit Project Manager | NDSU-Carrington REC

As manager of the Northern-Hardy Fruit Project at North Dakota State University-Carrington Research Extension Center (CREC), I am very interested in pollination.

We grow a wide range of hardy fruit in order to introduce people to easily-grown berries that they may never have heard of before. To encourage bees, our orchard includes unkempt areas and I have encouraged clovers and alfalfa within the area by limiting our mowing. In very early spring we have willow and dandelions. Later in the summer, we have many flowering field crops.

Mason bee on cherry at CREC

CREC is in the Drift Prairie region of the state.

This is a crop farming area with little land left in its natural prairie state. As a result, we see little native bee activity in our orchard but many syrphid flies. We have had very poor production in haskaps (a berry popular in Japan and Russia with blue cylindrical fruits) which begin to bloom in April and set best with fuzzy bees like bumblebees. But we have few local bumblebees. A honeybee keeper brings hives to the farm but sometimes weather conditions hold the bees up in Texas and they do not arrive in time to pollinate our fruit. This was the case last year AND the case this year so I was very glad that I explored our options and bought cocoons from Crown Bees this spring. The mason bees worked our cherries like champs!

Berry Blue Haskap fruits

From Canadian research, (video: conclusions at 42:40) we know that bumblebees are the most efficient pollinators of haskap.

Honeybees do the job by sheer numbers and mason bees, they seem to not really care for haskaps! But, if nothing else is available, they will give in and work haskap. I watched carefully and I was able to see a few mason bees on haskap flowers.  Haskap harvest just began June 13th and production seems a bit better than usual.  In a month, we will be able to tally the numbers and see if our mason bees made a difference. Stand by!

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Crown Bees' Note: Mason bees are wonderful additions to extension service programs. The programs can evaluate the efficiency of mason bees, learn and teach about mason bee life cycles, and make recommendations to farmers and gardeners about the ability of mason bees to pollinate in their region. Mason bees and honey bees can work together in farms and mason bees have been shown to actually improve the pollination behavior of honey bees.