Posted by: buzzybeegirl | July 5, 2010

Got B.O.B (Blue Orchard Bee)?

Well bee fanatics, I am back online! I also have a few photos to post, so there will be more posts. It has been too long of a break and I have to say…I miss writing about bees. I miss going out to take photos of them. Well, I miss everything about them. So, here it goes.

In May I went up to Kern County, CA to visit a friend who is currently working with one of the biggest Almond factories. His job? To start using native bees for almond pollination. His setup? It’s a secret. I don’t want the almond people to hate me, so I do have to keep that a secret. But, I can say that it is AMAZING!!!! When R and I pulled into the orchard my jaw dropped. My friend is working with a particular bee. Osmia lignaria, a.k.a. orchard mason bee or blue orchard bee (BOB).

Osmia lignaria

Aren’t they beautiful? These bees are cavity nesting bees, so they nest in above ground pre-made cavities(holes). This bee can be trap-nested in artificial nests, so you can start building a community of bees. This is what the orchards here in California’s central valley are trying to do. To help ease the work of honeybees (and costs), they are trying to raise hundreds of thousands of these little Osmia bees to pollinate their orchards. It’s a HUGE orchard, so thousands upon thousands of bees are needed to do the job.

Photo by Ruben Alarcon

When we were visiting the orchard, I was around over 350,000 of these bees. Some would land on my pants, my arm, and others just flew by me. Not a single sting or act of aggression from these ladies. Although this species of bee can sting, they only will if they feel threatened, i.e. if you grab them. But hey, if someone grabbed you wouldn’t you fight back and try to get away? They only use it when they have to.

These bees are very efficient pollinators. Even more so than honeybees. They are efficient because they tend to make numerous trips in order to gather enough pollen to feed their offspring (larvae). Because they make numerous trips, and because they have hairy little bodies, lots more pollen gets rubbed onto their body and they visit more flowers to gather pollen, and drop off more pollen.

So you may be wondering why orchards have not been using them instead of honeybees. Well, in other countries like Spain and Japan they do use them. The problem in the US is the size of the orchards and when they begin blooming. This orchard that I visited is the largest almond and pistachio orchard in California. I am talking about 50,000 plus acres (from that company alone!).  That’s a lot of trees, which means a lot more flowers that need to be pollinated. These native bees do not have hives and they are seasonal. So getting the bees up in the numbers and to emerge exactly when the trees bloom is very tricky. Since the bees are only live 4-6 weeks, you have to be very careful not to have them emerge too early or else they will not be alive for the entire or peak bloom, but if they emerge too late they can miss peak bloom. There lies the conundrum.

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Responses

  1. I was worried because I hadn’t seen any bees this year, but then the lavender bloomed in our yard and now we have them in droves.

  2. That is a great photograph in flight of one of these Orchard Mason Bees! They are very camera shy as I am finding as I am trying to photograph them on the clover patches I am leaving in my lawn for the pollinators. Plus they move really fast from flower to flower, which is as you say, they are hyper pollinators for sure. It is almost a frenzy watching them compared to the Honey Bees and Bumble Bees.

    Interesting that you are writing about the Mason Bees, as they are the new wave of pollinators to hit the clover this season, and they love it. Up until a few weeks ago, it was only Honey Bees and some smaller Bumble Bees and smaller wasps visiting the clover.

    Having the clover has been a treat this year, now that I have the neighbors understanding why I am letting the clover take over the lawn. (Horrors!) It was surprising how many people, including the local landscapers automatically said, “So are you going to chemically nuke the clover out of your lawn…?” Not a chance, so hopefully I am encouraging some awareness about pollinator friendly yards in this region.

    Interesting exploration for you in the orchards that are developing the Mason Bee for working their trees! This is encouraging to hear that the commercial orchards are exploring alternative collaborations with Nature.

    Curious though, this makes me wonder, are these orchards looking at introducing any pollinator friendly flowers around the trees as additional pollen food for these bees? I would think that orchards like this would want additional pollen sources for their bees that would provide pre and post bloom food sources. If I recall, this was theorized as one of the CCD problems with the commercially trucked in Bees, in that their mono-crop pollen collecting from these orchards was not a completely nutritious food source for them.

    I am a Dandelion freak, so if I was around an orchard like this, it would not be long until I had it covered in beautiful shimmering golden Dandelions… mmmmm. The potential.

    • Thanks Chris. There are some biologist out there that are currently trying to get orchard owners to grow native flowers for bee food. This has been a hard task though, since most owners tend to think that having additional floral resources may deter the bees from visiting their crop. And you are correct with the mono-crop statement. Although CCD has been linked to several causes, there is still speculation that the mono-crop diet may be decreasing the bees immunity via a bad diet.

  3. Nice article.Good to see other pollinators being used, and they will be stationary, in that they won’t be moved from place to place. I am sure that moving from crop to crop has had a huge detrimental effect on the honeybee in terms of monoculture pollens, and the stress of being moved, and has contibuted significantly to the problems we are now witnessing.

  4. Nice to see you back with a posting! It has been some time.

    It must have been an incredible trip for you to see this in action.

    • Thanks forkboy. It’s good to be back. And it was an amazing trip to see all these bees.

  5. buzzybeegirl, let’s talk.


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