Small fruit specialist Lisa Wasko DeVetter of Washington State University points out bags meant to exclude pollinators in a commercial blueberry field in Mount Vernon in July 2022 as part of a pollination test.  (Ross Courtney/The Good Fruit Grower)
Small fruit specialist Lisa Wasko DeVetter of Washington State College factors out luggage meant to exclude pollinators in a industrial blueberry subject in Mount Vernon in July 2022 as a part of a pollination take a look at. (Ross Courtney/The Good Fruit Grower)

Instinct would possibly inform blueberry growers to put as many honey bees as near their crop as doable.

However early outcomes from a nationwide blueberry pollination analysis venture counsel extra nuance.

Scattering colonies alongside the sting of the sector and stocking extra hives don’t improve bee visits, yields, or berry weight. In the meantime, panorama construction, hive well being, plant physiology, and horticultural practices are vital.

“Pollination is vital, but it surely’s just one piece of the puzzle,” stated Lisa Wasko DeVetter, a small fruit specialist at Washington State College’s Mount Vernon Analysis Heart.

The information so removed from a wide-ranging venture at 4 universities could disprove some myths about blueberry pollination, which scientists imagine has been understudied given the quickly rising manufacturing, acreage and worth of the fruit in the marketplace. everybody.

Researchers from Washington State College, Oregon State College, Michigan State College and the College of Florida are collaborating within the venture, which is funded by a $2 million grant from the Division of Agriculture’s Specialty Crops Analysis Initiative. USA

hive density

Take the density of the hive. Producers are tempted to inventory as many hives as they’ll afford, pondering that the extra bees the higher. That is solely true up to some extent, as a result of bees do not actually care about property strains, DeVetter stated.

In 2021 and 2022, DeVetter’s colleagues in Michigan and Florida in contrast bee visits and berry weights from fields with densities starting from two to 6 hives per acre. Bee visits and berry weight, a yield metric, weren’t affected by rising hives per acre.

Nonetheless, a special research performed in Washington confirmed that bee visits are influenced by hive density in a common panorama inside 1,000 meters past the boundaries of a subject.

Meaning neighbors matter. Some growers in Whatcom County, one in all Washington’s high rising areas, already inventory their very own fields with their neighbors’ hive densities in thoughts, DeVetter stated.

The researchers measured the outcomes of the pollination trials by bodily strolling down marked rows and counting what number of bees they noticed blooming. In addition they counted the seeds and weighed the berries. Heavier berries and better yields point out higher pollination.

The unbagged berry cluster, left, matured and grew, albeit imperfectly due to the poor 2022 pollination season. The bagged berry cluster, above, developed zero berries with no pollinators.  (Ross Courtney/The Good Fruit Grower)
The unbagged berry cluster, left, matured and grew, albeit imperfectly as a result of poor 2022 pollination season. The bagged berry cluster, above, developed zero berries with no pollinators. (Ross Courtney/The Good Fruit Grower)

hive placement

The situation of the hive inside a producer’s operation additionally makes a distinction.

Growers usually ask beekeepers to put hives instantly adjoining to their fields, pondering that this may make it simpler for the bees to disperse and do their work. Honey bees are inclined to have little attraction to blueberries, in comparison with different flowers, DeVetter stated.

Nonetheless, that follow may cause pointless complications for the beekeeper, as they’re anticipated to trudge by means of muddy circumstances at evening beneath intense deadlines.

It seems that clustering hives in a number of locations away from the perimeters of fields works simply as nicely, if not higher, stated Kayla Brouwer, a graduate scholar at WSU-Mount Vernon who helped with the analysis. In trials in 2021 and 2022 in Michigan, Washington and Oregon, the researchers counted at the least as many bee visits from clustered hives, in contrast to people who stretched alongside the perimeters of the sector. In Washington, beneath optimum pollination circumstances, bee visits truly elevated with clustering, Brouwer stated.

Berry weights from these fields have been additionally comparable, the researchers stated.

The reason being unsure, however theories embody the chance that adjoining hives compete and feed extra intensely or radiate warmth to one another and fly off sooner.

A research technician weighs blueberries to collect yield data at Washington State University's Mount Vernon Research Center.  (Ross Courtney/The Good Fruit Grower)
A analysis technician weighs blueberries to gather yield information at Washington State College’s Mount Vernon Analysis Heart. (Ross Courtney/The Good Fruit Grower)

Habitat for pollinators and pesticides

In one other end result, the researchers discovered that Northwest blueberry growers can increase wild pollinator populations with semi-natural habitats, reminiscent of a flower strip, a tree line, or wooded and grassy areas, close to their fields. Earlier research from Michigan and Florida have proven the identical factor.

Bumblebees, for instance, are an efficient blueberry pollinator. In comparison with honey bees, bumblebees and different various pollinators usually fly in cooler circumstances, reminiscent of wet western Washington and western Oregon. Generally blueberry growers battle to even get honey bees as a result of beekeepers, who journey the nation with their colonies, do not all the time wish to cease in blueberry nation.

The researchers are additionally measuring how colony location impacts pesticide publicity. That work remains to be in progress.

by Ross Courtney

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