July 25, 2012

Maine blueberry farmer lures tiny but mighty allies

An organic grower uses nest boxes and forage plants to attract wild bees to pollinate his crop.

By Lynn Ascrizzi / Special to the Press Herald

(Continued from page 2)

click image to enlarge

Organic blueberry grower Doug Van Horn is using varied nesting box designs for the small wild pollinators.

click image to enlarge

Organic blueberry grower Doug Van Horn, left, and Frank Drummond, an insect ecologist at the University of Maine at Orono, inspect a nesting box for native bees at Twitchell Hill Farm in Montville.

Lynn Ascrizzi photos

Related headlines


MAINE ORGANIC FARMERS AND GARDENERS recommends "Farming for Bees: Guidelines for Providing Native Bee Habitat on Farms," by Mace Vaughan, Matthew Shepherd, Claire Kremen and Scott Hoffman Black, 2007, The Xerces Society. The 43-page book is available as a pdf download or to buy ($15).


AVERY YALE KAMILA is on vacation. Her "Natural Foodie" column will return soon

Encouraging bee-friendly habitat is a big part of her strategy. "It's one of the reasons why I have rosa rugosa, autumn olive, wild blackberry , raspberry, lilacs, goldenrod, borage, calendula and bee balm for the native pollinators -- to feed them through their life cycle. These plants encourage bees to stay around. So, when blueberries blossom in May, I have a variety of bees -- bumblebees, sweat bees, mason bees," she said.

She also avoids using herbicides and lets foraging plants go a little wild.

"You have to consider: I may not like this weed, but what else does like it? Can I manage it in a way we can both be happy?"

Drummond is confident that, over the long term, a healthy population of mason bees positively affects blueberry yield.

"We have conclusive data that shows that the more native bees there are, the better the yield," he said.

The only caveat, he said, is the weather. "A winter with no snow and bitter cold can kill a lot of flower buds. If you have a nice winter and lots of bee pollinators and good flower buds, you will get a good yield. Bees like sunny weather," he said.

Van Horn, a retired Unity College math teacher, owns the blueberry field collectively with a handful of friends who once lived communally in a large, hand-built wood-and-stone house set on 70 acres of woods and fields, at the end of Twitchell Hill Road.

Recently, he used weed whackers to control weeds that grew above the low bush blueberry plants, defoliating the weeds without using chemicals.

"In the last two years, I had two crop failures, partly as a result of the weather. It got me thinking about the whole pollination thing. I decided to get into the program to encourage wild bees," he said.

Lynn Ascrizzi is a freelance writer.


Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at PressHerald.com we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)



More PPH Blogs