Honeybee colonies are a delicate organism, according to bee biologist Gordon Wardell. Here he inspects a colony located at Paramount Farms near Lost Hills, Calif.
In addition to promoting honey bee health, Wardell is working on a research project that could benefit his employer and the bee industry.
He is currently working with blue orchard bees (BOB), a wild and solitary bee that shows promise in helping pollinate crops.
“Paramount wanted to see if there is another bee that can supplement honey bee pollination, or act as an ‘insurance policy’ if we have some bee colonies that are a little short,” Wardell said.
Wardell is currently studying one of about 50 species of solitary bees common to California. What is positive about these particular bees is they seem to work well in almonds. Another positive: they don’t sting.
He currently has BOB’s in cold storage at his Paramount facility west of Lost Hills, Calif., where he is busy constructing 20 acres of enclosed habitat for the Blue Orchard Bee. The habitat will include several kinds of flowers and a netting enclosure to keep the Blue Orchard bees in and other bees and animals out.
Wardell is in his fourth year of research on the project.
“What we’ve learned so far is that we can put them into the orchard and they work well with honey bees,” Wardell said. “They are very good pollinators.”
The main part holding Paramount back from using the BOB to supplement honey bee pollination is their numbers. Once they can breed and grow a viable population of the solitary bees then Wardell says they may be able to use them to supplement almond pollination.
Researchers from the University of California, USDA and Utah State University at Logan are working with Wardell on the BOB project.
Key to BOB success, as will be for their European honey bee cousins, will be to encourage growers and others to promote wildflower and other vegetative growth to allow for greater bee foraging throughout the year.
“Where are they going to go when the almonds aren’t in bloom,” Wardell asks. “We have to find other places for them to forage.”
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