Maine promotes native pollinators

somerset beekeepers

somerset beekeepersTuesday night the Somerset Beekeepers met for their monthly meeting, and were joined by a number of the county’s master gardeners in welcoming Dr. Sam Hanes and Eric Venturini, a masters degree student, both of whom came over from the University of Maine at Orono to speak with us.

I’ve mentioned before the good work Maine’s academics are doing in the field of apiculture and agriculture (check out pollinator conservation at MOFGA, post from last year), with scientists like Frank Drummond, Alison Dibble, and many more, all working to better understand Maine’s native pollinators and the role they play in our ecosystems.  In fact, Maine is a leading player in a USDA funded research project entitled “Pollination security for fruit and vegetables in the northeast”.  The project was funded by a 6.6 million dollar grant, and includes 5 different institutions across the northeast.

Read more about the project here and here.

As president of the Somerset Beekeepers, I’m always looking for interesting speakers to visit us at our monthly meetings, and I was elated when Eric agreed to come, with Dr. Hanes in tow.

dr hanes & eric venturini
Dr. Sam Hanes on the left, and Eric Venturini stands to the right.

Dr. Hanes’ presentation was titled “Maine Blueberry Growers’ Pollination Strategies and Perceptions of Native Pollinators”.  It’s a thought-provoking concept to include an anthropologist in these studies, since anthropology is the study of man-kind, and covers a broad range of study areas from social and biological sciences.

In his studies, Dr. Hanes is exploring the reasons why growers do or don’t adopt early innovations related to native pollinators.  He’s been looking closely at growers of blueberries and cranberries in Maine and Massachusetts, since these are two large industries in this region which both import honeybees for pollination.

With the decline of commercial honeybee populations across the United States, concern over pollination of these large-scale agricultural industries is increasing, and growers and farmers are looking at alternative means of pollination–either to reduce expenses as the cost of hive rentals increase, or to provide supplemental pollination when hive rentals are unable to meet the demands.

Currently, 75% of Maine’s blueberry growers rent honeybees for pollination, compared to the 94% of growers who are renting hives for cranberry production.  The average number of hives per acre for blueberry pollination is 3-4, versus 1-2 hives per acre for cranberries.  It was interesting to note that more hives per acre did not necessarily transfer into higher yields, basically once the area has been saturated with honeybee pollinators, there’s not much more a grower can do to increase their crop’s production.

According to his research so far, Dr. Hanes has been able to discern that approximately 15-20% of the grower population are “early innovators” who are adopting new or experimental practices for promoting pollination by native pollinators.

Dr. Hanes is looking at growers’ perceptions of native pollinators and their strategies for incorporating them into their operations.  Thanks to Frank Drummond’s work over the last decade promoting native pollinators through extension outreach, it’s more common in Maine for growers to go out of their way to help native bees than it is in the cranberry fields of Massachusetts.  Through polls taken at grower conventions, Dr. Hanes has been able to discern how farmers are helping native bees.

growers helping native bees statistics
BB stands for “blueberry”, while CB represents “cranberry”.

Another poll helps Dr. Hanes understand growers’ perceptions of how effective native pollinators are.

pollination from native bees
Again, BB represents “blueberry” and CB is short for “cranberry”.

Dr. Hanes has discovered that overall, growers seem to feel that native bees fill a critical gap in their agricultural systems.  Since native bees are more active in cool or inclement weather than the imported honeybees, they are especially important here in Maine where the seasons can be unpredictable.

To me these numbers indicate a growing awareness of the importance and benefits of native pollinators, which are a crucial aspect of a healthy ecosystem.  It’s inspirational to me, a 4-year beekeeper, and aspiring pollinator conservationist, to see my beloved home-state trending in this field, but it looks as though there’s still plenty of room for improvement.  I know that there are many more growers and farmers who can utilize these beneficial insects, and I will continue to work to do my own part for the cause.

Stay tuned for the up-coming post about Eric Venturini’s presentation, which was entitled: “Enhancing Native Pollinators in Maine; What to plant and how to plant it”!

Home gardeners beware of pesticides in potting soils & nursery plants

somerset beekeepersThis past Tuesday at the monthly meeting of the Somerset Beekeepers, we hosted Gary Fish from the Maine Board of Pesticide Control to talk with us about “Pesticides and Pollinators”.  We are a small group, so I’m always grateful that any knowledgeable speaker should come to Skowhegan to share their knowledge with us, and I know that our beekeepers are eager to learn what these people have to offer us. Read more

Saving the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee

rusty-patched bumble beeBumblebees are the gentle giants of the pollinator world, so big and fuzzy and mellow that you just want to pick one up and give it a big hug!

Like other pollinators, bumble bees are in trouble.  According to recent surveys, populations of bumbles have sharply declined since 1997, and none are so rare as the Rusty-Patched Bumblebee.

The Xerces Society has recently filed a petition with the US Fish and Wildlife Service to list the Rusty-Patched Bumble as an endangered species.  Read more

3 trees that offer early season food sources for Maine bees

The early spring season is a very difficult time for bees and beekeepers.  When the temperatures start warming the bees begin increasing activity, rearing brood, and flying on warm sunny days.  This is a tricky time for bees because there is not much available to feed the growing population.  Many beekeepers feed sugar-syrup or candy, to supplement the bees’ food source.

Trees are often overlooked as a food source for bees and other pollinators.  Sure people think about apple trees and other fruiting trees that exhibit showy displays of fragrant flowers, but there are a number of other trees with blossoms that offer bees nectar or pollen–and sometimes both–before even the dandelion blooms signals that the foraging season is on in full-force. Read more

“Wings of Life” mesmerizes and inspires

wings of lifeWe received the “Wings of Life” documentary on Saturday, I ordered it from Amazon and had it shipped here by mail, but I couldn’t even begin to think about writing a review of the film until just the other day–so mesmerized by the vivid depiction of the one thing that I prize above all others on this planet. The relationship between plants and pollinators. Read more

Help Runamuk do more for pollinator conservation!

I’ve been presented with an exciting new opportunity–stumbled into it, really. Our core group of Somerset Beekeepers is made up of members who have been at it for 2 or more years now, and we are ready for some more advanced beekeeping topics–so I’ve been emailing various academics and beekeepers across the state trying to enlist guest speakers.  When I contacted Alison Dibble–a conservation biologist and botanist with the University of Maine–she responded with a tantalizing offer to participate in a course that she and Frank Drummond are teaching at the Eagle Hill Institute in August. Read more

Wings of Life

I’ve been waiting for two years for Louie Schwartzberg’s moving-art documentary featuring winged pollinators at their best and most beautiful. The film was released in Europe two years ago, and at long last will be released in America this year just in time to celebrate Earth Day. April 16th!

Pollinator decline threatens agriculture

sichuan china

As president of the Somerset Beekeepers, people often ask me if it is only the honeybees who are in trouble, or is it all bees?

bumblebee on a coneflowerNot only is it all bees–it’s all of our pollinators, too!  Everything from bees to beetles and butterflies, even flies–are all at risk.  And a new study that was recently published in the scientific journal “Science” analyses the issue. Read more

Studying native bees on the Maine coast

I’m excited to announce that this August I will be participating in a five day seminar called “Native Bees as Pollinators: Diversity, Ecology, Conservation and Enhancing Pollinator Habitats” at the Eagle Hill Institute in Steuben, Maine! Read more

Talking pollinators with the Somerset master gardeners

bull thistle pollinationLast night I had the privilege of speaking to a group of my peers, the master gardeners of Somerset County.  It was an informal pot-luck dinner for the alumni that the folks at the extension office organized to thank those who gathered for their time and dedication.  I was honored that Kathy Hopkins and Tom Goodspeed would think of me to present to the group, Read more