Apple bee communities: what’s a-buzz in New Hampshire Orchards?

What a crazy Spring, eh? I went swimming in the sunshine and then huddled under 3 thick blankets a day later. Hopefully, our native bees are taking it in stride because bloom is here!

With blankets across my lap, I recently chatted with Anna Wallingford, the UNH Cooperative Extension State Specialist, Entomology & IPM and Alina Harris, Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management Specialist,      The Xerces Society & NRCS Partner Biologist, about their Integrated Pest & Pollinator Management (IPPM) Project in New Hampshire Apple Orchards. They will be testing pollinator & landscape assessment tools to evaluate the abundance of native bees contributing to apple pollination in New Hampshire apple orchards. We are excited that our NEPP app will be assessing the bee community and grower practices while the Beescape landscape evaluation tool will assess the habitat quality around the orchard.

Inspiration for project

Anna and Alina were inspired to implement this research to build relationships with the grower community in New Hampshire.  “We want to learn about what technology they use, how and why they use it, and their cultural management practices as well as their overall philosophy.” said Anna. The goals of the project      are to identify the bee community and identify pollinator habitat that is already existing in and surrounding      the orchards. Sharing their findings with growers will provide a segue to educating growers about the bees they are finding in their orchard and sharing information about the best (IPPM) management practices for protecting bees while also protecting their crops.

This project is an opportunity to see where extension, NRCS, and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation can support and engage growers but also learn from each other so that they can better work together to provide service to growers. Their hope is that building relationships with growers will help the growers feel more comfortable reaching out to extension or NRCS for their expertise.

Data Collection

Anna, Alina, and Xerces teammates Hannah Mullally, and Kelly Gill will use the NEPP app to record the weather, and the number of visits from native bees versus honey bees in a 5-minute period in a 1 sq meter area for each observation.  The model that the App was based off determines that a tree is getting efficient pollination if there are at least 4 visits from native bees in the 5-minute window in the 1 sq meter area.

Their team will visit each orchard one time and take multiple observations.  At least three observations will be conducted in the center of the orchard, farthest away from any edge habitat. See Bee Abundance Analysis. Three more observations will be conducted about three rows (5-15 meters) in from the edge of the orchard section. In previous studies at Cornell and University of Wisconsin researchers have found diminished visitation by wild bees at the center of very large orchards. However, orchards here in the northeast and especially up in New Hampshire tend to be smaller and tucked up against forests, which offer nest habitat and floral resources to bees. As a result, they predict New Hampshire orchards do not rely on honey bees for pollination and they predict that native bee visitation will be about the same near the edge and in the center for this region. That would be good news for pollinator health and the future of apple pollination!

Grower support

This collaborative project between UNH Extension, NRCS and Xerces will run for two years. This first year they will deliver a packet of apple IPPM management information to each participating grower.  It will include information on native bees, basic identification, and their habitats on the farm.  Recognition of these existing habitats within or abutting the orchard may inspire growers to protect pollinators from pesticides and reduce their reliance on purchased/rented honey bees or bumble bees.  Furthermore, some of the same habitats support beneficial insects that attack orchard pests.  The apple IPPM team will distribute information on preventative cultural techniques such as field sanitizing (destroying infested plant tissue), that are used in concert with other pest management techniques.  Since many New England growers rely on pesticides to produce a marketable crop, information also includes how to use those protective materials in the most accurate way, such as scouting, trapping, or using weather models to determine economic thresholds which then triggers pesticide intervention decisions.  Part of using pesticides accurately is regularly calibrating pesticide application equipment, which has been a topic that UNH Extension, NRCS, and Xerces has united in promoting to growers.  “Alongside the orchardists, we are learning the intricate dance between pollinator conservation that sustains crop production, and a marketable crop that feeds our local community.” said Alina.

Here at NEPP, we were grateful to hear that our neighbors over in New Hampshire will be getting involved in this fun and meaningful research. The more we learn the more we can help our northeast apple growers.

May your flowers bloom and bee visited often!

Interested in assessing how many native bees are in your orchard? Here is how. (If you see 4 or more native bees visiting a flower in a one-sq meter area in 5-minutes, you can celebrate. If not, then read our previous blog about NY pollinator protection and attracting more native bees to your land.)