There have been many stories of pollinator/bee decline in recent years, but can something practical be done about this? Recent research suggests that in future, bee pastures may help pollinators prosper— wildflowers might someday be planted in ‘bee pastures,’ floral havens created as an efficient, practical, environmentally friendly, and economically sound way to produce successive generations of healthy young bees. This research took place in the USA but could indicate a direction for other countries as well. Individual gardeners in the UK for example can not only produce beauty in their gardens but acting in concert with neighbouring gardeners can produce collectively large areas of bee pasture and pollinator ‘corridors’ that allow the free movement and spread of beneficial insects. We look at this in another research article in this issue entitled ‘Gardeners Unite for Bees.’
The pesticide-free pastures talked about in the research could be simple to establish, and—at perhaps only a half-acre each—easy to tend, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) entomologist James H. Cane.
Bee pasturing isn’t a new idea. But studies by Cane and his collaborators, conducted in a research greenhouse and at outdoor sites in Utah and California, are likely the most extensive to date.
Two bee businesses are already using the findings to propagate more bees. The research indicates that species of pastured pollinators could include, for example, the blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria. This gentle bee helps with pollination tasks handled primarily by the nation’s premier pollinator, the honey bee. Cane estimates that, under good conditions, blue orchard bee populations could increase by as much as four- to fivefold a year in a well-designed, well-managed bee pasture. Cane and colleagues have studied wildflowers that might be ideal for planting at bee pastures in California. In particular, the team was interested in early-flowering annuals that could help bolster populations of blue orchard bees needed to pollinate California’s vast almond orchards. (Around 1 million hives are shipped in to carry out this huge task).
The research, funded by ARS and the Modesto-based Almond Board of California, resulted in a first-ever list of five top-choice, bee-friendly wildflowers for tomorrow’s bee pastures in almond-growing regions. These pasture-perfect native California plants are: Chinese houses (Collinsia heterophylla), California five-spot (Nemophila maculata), baby blue eyes (N. menziesii), lacy or tansy phacelia (Phacelia tanacetifolia), and California bluebell (P. campanularia).
Cane has presented results of his research to almond growers at workshops. You can Read more about the research in the August 2010 issue of Agricultural Research magazine: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug10/bee0810.htm
Article: The above article is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by USDA/Agricultural Research Service. The original article was written by Marcia Wood.
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