Sustainable agriculture: Native mason bees (Osmia lignaria) added to small farms increase strawberry size
Over 90% of United States farms are considered small farms. Most of these are family-owned and relied upon heavily for household income. The price of honeybee rental for farms has increased substantially with the advent of catastrophic honeybee losses. Colony collapse disorder impacts farmers when the reliability of honeybee colonies for the pollination of crops comes into question. Many native bees are superb crop pollinators and may be beneficial supplements, or replacements, to European honeybees (Apis mellifera), as primary crop pollinators. In this work we asked, 'Can native mason bees (Osmia lignaria) be used to pollinate strawberries on small farms?'. We added mason bee cocoons to the 'experimental' side of each of eight small farm plots in Pungo, Virginia (USA). These bees fly relatively short distances, so after emergence they were not expected to reach the 'control' (no mason bee addition) side of each farm.
Our first year results indicate a clear, beneficial effect of mason bees on strawberry farms. Berry volume increased (p<0.05) on the 'experimental' side of farm plots relative to the 'control' side. Since farmers are paid by berry weight, an increase in volume directly impacts farmers' financial gain. Several different varieties of strawberry were sown on these small farms and the benefit of mason bees was not confined to one berry variety. Additionally, bee homes were established on these farms and new bees recruited to the homes, suggestive of the potential for the sustainable populations of mason bees on strawberry farms in subsequent years.