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Author Topic: Farming for Bees (farmers using native bees)  (Read 1680 times)
MrILoveTheAnts
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« on: May 29, 2008, 03:06:56 PM »

http://www.xerces.org/Pollinator_Insect_Conservation/Farming_for_Bees_2nd_edition.pdf
From The Xerces Society.

They don't openly attack honeybees but they do list hundreds of reason why native bees are superior. It's basically a guideline for farms to take roughly 30% (much of it unused anyhow) of their land and transform it into restored habitat with native bees in mind. It covers everything from the life cycle of native bees, recommended cover crops, mowing cover crops when the lead crop is in bloom, safe insecticides and when to spry. There seems to be lots of good ideas here including the use of clover as a cover crop to naturally put nitrogen into the soil. For bumblebees it's as simple as not mowing the outer edge of grass around the field to bring in a rodent population and the following year bumblebees might take up nesting in the abandoned homes. The simplest thing is to include untiled sandy soil and you'll get regular ground nesting bees. They explain wood nesting blocks.
They include what seem like news articles or reports on farmers who have done this. And without stating the figures they say their prophets have skyrocketed.
Something not written in the paper is the fact that honey bees take roughly half the food out there from the native bees and greatly hurt the native bee population. However that's based on studies before farmers star using this method of embracing native pollinators. My theory with it all is, if they increase the amount of foraging plants out there with these cover crops (borage, yarrow, hyssop, lavender and mint to name a few) then there will be more food out there for everyone.

This is both good and bad for us. Bad because some farmers will stop using commercial beekeepers to pollinate their crops. Good because the cover crops and natural wildflowers they recommend are great for the environment, and offer tremendous foraging opportunities for the urban beekeeper. And if insecticide spraying is done less frequently, losses of bees should be minimal.

I'm curious to see everyone's opinion on this paper. 
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Vetch
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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2008, 04:25:31 PM »

In an ideal, organic world, farmers would set aside more land for habitat for native bees and other beneficials, the mega farms of thousands of acres of  almonds and citrus (or whatever) would become diversified, most farmers would become beeks.  They would spray their fields less, as their bees were usually nearby. Then we would gather round the fire and sing kumbayah.  Probably not going to happen soon. 

If individuals want to pursue that vision, more power to them. I just don't see the Florida citrus growers or the Maine blueberry growers developing their own legion of hives (or large populations of native bees) anytime soon.

Nice link, BTW.
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mairghead
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2008, 04:39:44 PM »

Farmers here have to be paid by the government to be convinced to keep "conservation" land with natural habitat on it.  It's a problem with education as well as taxation.  There is risk inherent in trying different methods of production and that is a lot of land to be taken out of production and taxed differently.  Add to that the resistance of voters who aren't associated with agricultural practices resisting paying the farmers with their tax dollars and it ends up being a huge quagmire.  It's such a mess and so difficult to navigate through for the average farmer.

Jackie
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2008, 04:40:06 PM »

I have not read the full article but permit some observations.

The arguments raised here are similar to one raised by similiar organisation in Australia.  While their policies sound nice and warm and fuzzy they are down on practicalities.

The article seems to suggest that 'native' species of bees can do the job of pollinating better that the honey bee. If such were the case, one would have to ask why then is there such a problem with pollination?  The answer is simply that 'native' species are not up to the task.  If 'native' species were the answer beekeepers would have switched from honeybees to 'natives' a long time ago.

Similar arguments are used in Australia.  We have some 'native' bee species and while they might be good at pollinating the eucalypt forests they are just not us to the job of commercial pollination - and they are hard to manage.  However, these groups do have a strong political lobby front and are popular with the urban elite so they do attract bucket loads of $$$$.  In some States apiarists have been locked out of state forests and national parks but apparently no one has told the bees who failed to understand imaginary lines drawn on imaginary maps.

The end result of this so-called 'debate' is that without honeybees the population would starve.  A somewhat similiar argument is uses in Australia to try stop beef production and arguing for the 'production' of kangeroo meat.  If kangeroos where all that great farmers would have switched two hundred years ago.

As many Australia graziers and farmers are finding out, setting aside land for the 'natives' does not pay the bank mortgage or the fuel bills or the land taxes - which are rising at a faster rate than the 'natives' can 'regenerate' the land.  And, I have a problem with urban elite 'immigrating' to the country with their forty or hundred acre plots with their warm and fuzzy ideas and thereby render yet more land unavialable for food production.  Like 'peak oil' their is 'peak land' - the point at which the cost of farming marginalised land will fall to the point of being unviable.

An increasing world population demands and ever increasing production of food from a diminishing suppy of arable land. We can't have it both ways.

Sorry.  Time to get off the soapbox.  
 
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Keith13
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2008, 04:45:09 PM »

The U.S. govt has a program called the WHIP program that some farmers use. it pays farmers to set aside the edges of their fields to wildlife. That may be one way they might be able to do it. But in my opinion it would be easier for a farmer to farm more and get the govt subsidies than worry about the wildlife and a whole new bureaucratic program
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MrILoveTheAnts
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2008, 05:19:31 PM »

I have not read the full article but permit some observations.

The arguments raised here are similar to one raised by similiar organisation in Australia.  While their policies sound nice and warm and fuzzy they are down on practicalities.

The article seems to suggest that 'native' species of bees can do the job of pollinating better that the honey bee. If such were the case, one would have to ask why then is there such a problem with pollination?  The answer is simply that 'native' species are not up to the task.  If 'native' species were the answer beekeepers would have switched from honeybees to 'natives' a long time ago.

Similar arguments are used in Australia.  We have some 'native' bee species and while they might be good at pollinating the eucalypt forests they are just not us to the job of commercial pollination - and they are hard to manage.  However, these groups do have a strong political lobby front and are popular with the urban elite so they do attract bucket loads of $$$$.  In some States apiarists have been locked out of state forests and national parks but apparently no one has told the bees who failed to understand imaginary lines drawn on imaginary maps.

The end result of this so-called 'debate' is that without honeybees the population would starve.  A somewhat similiar argument is uses in Australia to try stop beef production and arguing for the 'production' of kangeroo meat.  If kangeroos where all that great farmers would have switched two hundred years ago.

As many Australia graziers and farmers are finding out, setting aside land for the 'natives' does not pay the bank mortgage or the fuel bills or the land taxes - which are rising at a faster rate than the 'natives' can 'regenerate' the land.  And, I have a problem with urban elite 'immigrating' to the country with their forty or hundred acre plots with their warm and fuzzy ideas and thereby render yet more land unavialable for food production.  Like 'peak oil' their is 'peak land' - the point at which the cost of farming marginalised land will fall to the point of being unviable.

An increasing world population demands and ever increasing production of food from a diminishing suppy of arable land. We can't have it both ways.

Sorry.  Time to get off the soapbox.   
 

Native bees are certainly up to the task and because there's 4000 native species, when one doesn't do very well one year others will fill in the gap. The trouble is pesticides do a great job of killing them. Even in safer forms if a mason or digger bee were to bring back poison coated pollen to the burrow she's just killed off her life's work. Leaf cutter bees too, when they take back contaminated leaves.
Even when they aren't contaminated, nests can still be destroyed by fire. Plowing a field will kill off all developing digger bees that might be in the soil, those below the plow won't have a way out of the burrow. Because they're only active for 4 to 6 weeks of the year you really have to look at it in terms of generations. One of these bees can make one or more nests that account to 20 to 30 developing bees. It could be worth it to a farmer to simply set aside a patch of dirt, Undisturbed, and at least 25 feet away form the spraying zone. Nesting blocks are certainly worth your time. 
Solitary bees aren't distracted by the best food source around they're only interested in providing their young with food. And they rarely forage more then a half mile from their nest.

Native bees come in a variety of sizes! Have you ever seen a honey bee try to fit it's head in a blueberry flower? They don't bother, they wait for another bee to chop a hole up in the side and they just steal the nectar. Some are specialized in a particular crop. The Blueberry bee for example, (like a really tiny bumblebee) or Squash Bees. The male Squash Bee actually spends the night inside the Squash flower.
These little guys offer 100% seed production.

These farmers who are doing the native pollination thing are only spraying insecticide 4 times a year or when needed. As opposed to the other farms who look at their calender and spray on the date 6 times or more regardless of there being a problem. I don't know how much it costs to spray a field but think of the money they're saving. "Only spraying when there is a problem worth spraying," gasp.

Also, honey bees tend to only forage for either nectar or pollen on a single trip. This means if a plant has two different sexes of flowers, honey bees won't likely result in pollination. It's like half the bees are doing nothing.
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MrILoveTheAnts
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« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2008, 05:39:37 PM »

This also caught my eye.

Wild bees make honey bees better pollinators
http://www.physorg.com/news76083012.html

"When Kremen and Greenleaf followed the behavior of their tiny subjects, they discovered the reason for the boost in pollination: Like the captain of a plane switching out of autopilot when she spots a craft nearby, a honey bee alters its flight pattern after meeting up with a wild bee on a sunflower head.

Many plants - including sunflowers used for hybrid seed production - produce two kinds of flowers: pollen-bearing male flowers and nectar-bearing female flowers. In hybrid sunflower seed production, rows of one cultivar that bears only male flowers are interspersed among rows of another cultivar that bears only female flowers.

The researchers explained that because foraging honey bees are specialized workers - some typically collecting pollen and others nectar - anything that causes them to alter their foraging behavior improves the likelihood that they will move between different kinds of flowers, resulting in pollen being transferred to the place where it's needed: on a female flower part. "
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Daddys Girl
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2008, 07:29:53 PM »

Something not written in the paper is the fact that honey bees take roughly half the food out there from the native bees and greatly hurt the native bee population. However that's based on studies before farmers star using this method of embracing native pollinators. My theory with it all is, if they increase the amount of foraging plants out there with these cover crops (borage, yarrow, hyssop, lavender and mint to name a few) then there will be more food out there for everyone.

This is both good and bad for us. Bad because some farmers will stop using commercial beekeepers to pollinate their crops. Good because the cover crops and natural wildflowers they recommend are great for the environment, and offer tremendous foraging opportunities for the urban beekeeper. And if insecticide spraying is done less frequently, losses of bees should be minimal.

I'm curious to see everyone's opinion on this paper. 

I am going to be building nesting boxes for Orchard Mason Bees and spreading them out among friends, as a means to promote biodiversity and the overall health of native pollinators that do actually suffer because of honeybees.  Most people are not even aware of the existence of the other native pollinators, because they aren't on the radar due to lack of producing honey(as well as reproduction in vastly smaller numbers).
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Vetch
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« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2008, 08:45:54 PM »

And, I have a problem with urban elite 'immigrating' to the country with their forty or hundred acre plots with their warm and fuzzy ideas and thereby render yet more land unavialable for food production.  Like 'peak oil' their is 'peak land' - the point at which the cost of farming marginalised land will fall to the point of being unviable.


I think ordinary suburbanization is the worst offender. If someone has a 100 acre yard, most of can still be used.  Rising food prices will make it more feasible to utilize 'small' acreages. Around here, 99 acres of pasture will produce a lot of hay.

When a house/driveway/patio is put on a quarter acre, it takes a higher percent of the land out of production. Sure, people could put in a fruit or nut tree, or a garden if the yard isn't shaded. But the idea that homeowners will ever use their lawns for pasture? Nope, even a dreamer like me can't see that.
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MrILoveTheAnts
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« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2008, 07:32:33 PM »

Another thought, Could we breed a Honey Bee that was a better pollinator? Not necessarily a better honey producer.
It still makes sense for farmers to put aside land for native bees but this would at least take some of the heat off the Honey Bee is inferior argument.
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Daddys Girl
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« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2008, 10:01:38 PM »

The Honeybee is already one of the most over-managed species around--as well as being non-native.  Why not boost the native pollinator populations and promote some serious biodiversity?
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Brian D. Bray
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« Reply #11 on: May 31, 2008, 08:42:42 PM »

The Honeybee is already one of the most over-managed species around--as well as being non-native.  Why not boost the native pollinator populations and promote some serious biodiversity?

Good idean, they are as much under the gun of man's mismanagement of his environment as is the cultivated honey bee.
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« Reply #12 on: June 01, 2008, 08:58:44 AM »

The good thing is that anything that helps the native bees (and even not native solitary bee) will help the honey bees.  It just comes with the territory.

If you really want good pollination of many crops though, it takes both.  If you want to raise alfalfa for seed, you need leaf cutter bees AND honey bees.

Honey bees are still the easiest to manipulate into pollinating what you want them to by simply moving them in right after the bloom.

I used to raise leaf cutter bees.  There are a lot of them around here now even though I'm not raising them anymore.

I want to know how to raise squash bees.  Anyone know?
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MrILoveTheAnts
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« Reply #13 on: June 01, 2008, 02:51:52 PM »

I want to say squash bees are tube nesting but I don't know the size hole or what length works best for them.

Now some things I've noticed. The experts I speak with all tell me Honey bees are bad for native bee populations. I'm wondering how can this be? Of course when you compare one species with 4000 or 5000 others, honey bees are going to look bad. They say Bumblebees are better pollinators, and honey bees are taking half the food from the flowers out there. You could just as easily say because of their longer tung Bumblebees are taking All of the food from the flowers they visit, those greedy bastards. When you have 100% of the bees out there serving the plants they visit to produce fruit and even more plants, how can anyone say less then 1% of them is screwing it all up for the rest?

Yes honey bees are manipulated but observations from feral hives interest me. Feral honey bees are well adapted to the world around them: they forage earlier in the day, they deal with the elements, they tend to be good about pests. Now being active earlier, and good about pests are both traits seen in bumblebees. Honey bees are very generalized pollinators, but if it's learned that feral hives do a better job of pollinating then our managed hives, then would it really be more manipulation to make a managed hive a better pollinator? Or would it be setting things back to how they should be? These questions interest me a great deal.

Loss of habitat seems to be the key problem as I see it. How much of what this paper proposes will farmers actually listen to? It's sort of implied that they're looking at a 3 to 6 year project. Will the farmers simply stop after they get what they think is 100% seed production? I'd say the bulk of the crops out there flower in the spring, what's to stop the farmers from simply putting some nesting blocks out for mason bees and that's it? That's not exactly restoring habitat. Since they're only active for 4 to 6 weeks of the year, it cuts the need for any sort of cover crop unless they like the nitrogen in the soil thing. Cutting away 30% of the crop for forest land would bring in beneficial insects but also their pests.
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Vetch
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« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2008, 03:36:17 PM »

Cutting away 30% of the crop for forest land would bring in beneficial insects but also their pests.

My understanding of the ecology is that more complex habitats have more complex and stable insect populations, where the 'bad' insects are at a lower level. Not sure that a forest would harbor many pests that would plague most crops, though large plantings of any crop year after year will do wonders to boost the pest species.
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