Cascadian Farm
Pollinator Conservation at Our Home Farm
Ashley Minnerath - Site Director

 

 

Tens of thousands of acres of blueberry bushes are in bloom across the Pacific Northwest, and pollination is at the top of mind for all of these growers. Are there enough bees? Will the weather hold out for them to do their job? Has each blossom been fully pollinated? Blueberries are among the two-thirds of the world’s crop species that require the assistance of an animal, usually a bee, to move pollen from flower to flower in order to set seed and fruit.

Blueberry blossoms at our Home Farm in Skagit Valley, WA. 

The European honeybee stands out as one of the most important agricultural pollinators; primarily due to the fact that they are a domesticated animal and can be moved from place to place as different crops come into bloom. The majority of commercial blueberry farmers rely on honey bee hives to pollinate their berries, stocking at a rate of up to five hives per acre when the crop is in bloom. Native bees such as bumble bees, mining bees, and mason bees are also excellent pollinators of blueberries – sometimes more efficient than honeybees. 

Blueberries in bloom.

Several years ago, at our Home Farm we began to experiment with relying exclusively on native wild bees for pollination. After several years, we are now completely reliant on native bees for our crop pollination.

Luckily, our home farm hasn’t seen a decline in yields due to pollination since the switch.  But we were still eager to learn if there was more that could be done to ensure we were providing high quality habitat for the wild bees that live on our farm.   Last year, we invited Eric Lee-Mäder, of the Xerces Society out to the farm to conduct a habitat assessment. Eric is the co-director of Xerces’ Agricultural Biodiversity Program which works with farmers and landowners to protect and restore habitat for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Xerces has created a “Pollinator Habitat Assessment Guide” which helps farmers and landowners evaluate their land to identify habitat resources available for bees and prioritize conservation actions to enhance resources.

If you are looking to provide habitat for pollinators on a farm, in a natural area, or a suburban garden, they need three key habitat characteristics to thrive:

1.       Season-long bloom on which to forage

2.       Access to undisturbed nest sites to raise their young

3.       Protection from pesticides and other land management practices

With Xerces’ guidance, we have identified areas on the farm where we can enhance habitat for bees.  Our first installment will be a fourth acre wildflower meadow, which will provide late season bloom to the many species of wild bees that provide free pollination services on our farm. It is also likely to attract other beneficial insects that help control crop pests. This future wildflower meadow will be a physical space to inspire the thousands of people who visit our farm each year to do their part to help pollinators.  This simple concept – planting wildflowers and protecting them from pesticides – is essential to creating a sustainable food production system.

Site of future wildflower meadow for pollinators. Currently planted in a cover crop to prep the site for planting. 

seal