A Michigan orchardist had nearly twice the volume of fruit in his sweet cherry blocks last year after using hornfaced bees for pollination.
It was Josh Wunsch’s second year to try the bees, which are reported to fly in cool temperatures. He noted that he had a good crop of cherries in his black, sweet cherry blocks, although sizing was a problem in all of his cherries due to summer drought.
“But what I saw from the hornfaced bees was a bigger crop in my early variety of Cavalier and a good crop in my Ulsters, which are younger trees,” he said, adding that he doesn’t have enough hornfaced bees to cover all of his cherry blocks. Wunsch has 85 acres of sweet cherries, 70 acres of apples, and 135 acres of tart cherries near Traverse City.
From his limited experience, he’s learned that some flowers must be opened before placing the hives, which are in five-gallon buckets, in the orchard. “They’ve got to get something to eat, and then they mate.”
It is also important to keep the beehives cool before setting them in the orchard. If the buckets warm up before bees emerge, they have a tendency to stay in the bucket. Putting the beehives in cold storage prevents the adults from emerging before the orchards are ready for pollination.
Wunsch has also had good success with the hornfaced bees in his apple orchards. He observed fewer underpollinated apple blossoms in the blocks with the hornfaced bees.
“They do a very thorough job in the apples. Every seed or blossom is pollinated. The challenge then is to do a good thinning job.”
The hornfaced bees look very promising he said, adding that Michigan typically has temperatures between 45° to 55°F during bloom, with the honeybee preferring temperatures of 55 and above.
“Just a degree or two advantage with the hornfaced bee could make a big difference in pollination.”
Wunsch added that in Michigan, many orchardists have refrigeration or cold storage rooms that can be used if the bees need refrigeration in spring to delay things before bloom.
Gerry Brandt, owner of Fairview Orchards in Suttons Bay, Michigan, said he is getting the same kind of results with hornfaced bees as with honeybees and believes they are doing an equivalent job. But he found that the hornfaced bees need to be placed in the orchard earlier, ahead of pollination, because when they emerge from their beehive, they are busy doing “other things.” He observed that the adult male and female initially spend time mating instead of gathering pollen.
Timing of beehive placement in the orchards is under research by Michigan State University scientists.
Frances Otto, also from Suttons Bay, was impressed with the hornfaced bee. The apple and cherry grower sees potential for the solitary bee to be used in conjunction with honeybees, as some of his best fruit set results last year were in blocks where both types of bees were used.
He found the hornfaced bee to be active during low temperatures. He also had some bees vacate the orchard, which may help to naturalize hornfaced bees in the area. Mites have pretty much wiped out any natural populations of honeybees in his area, the orchardist added.
Otto is testing the hornfaced bees in his Balaton cherry blocks in hopes of improving what can be an inconsistent fruit set. In the first year, the bees seemed to perform well.
Thomas Brodhagen, an apple grower from Honor, Michigan, also reported positive results from using the hornfaced bees in his apple orchard last year. He had good yields throughout his ten-acre block that is home to more than
30 different varieties, and had to thin heavy in some blocks of his Maple Ridge Orchard.
He used the solitary bees as a supplement to wild honeybees. “I’ve not had to use bees in the past because I have a lot of feral bees in the area, but I worry about tracheal mite problems in the wild bees.”
Brodhagen said that it is difficult to separate the influence of the hornfaced bees from that of the honeybees because he doesn’t have data on different treatments, but he did have good yields in his Jonathan and Spartan apples, varieties that have not had good yields in recent years.
“Across the board, I had uniform, good yields in my apples,” he added. “But one year of data and experience is not enough.”
The hives, stored in buckets, are easy to care for after pollination and store until the next year’s pollinating season. However, he was somewhat disappointed with the initial hatch from the hives last year. He estimated that he had about 50 percent hatch and expects this season to be about the same or perhaps a little higher. The hives were older and may not be as strong as younger hives.
“There was quite a bit of variability in hatch between the different hives,” Brodhagen said, noting that he received ten hives from Michigan State University to test.
During the pollinating season, he kept a bucket of mud near each hive. His orchard is on sandy soil, and mud is necessary for the female to use in nest building.
“The hornfaced bee should be a real help to us,” he said. “We have a lot of wind and cold weather during bloom, especially in cherries.”