Raising New Questions About Hosting Beneficial Insects, Building a Year-Round Habitat for Bumblebees, and Giving the European Hedgerow New Life

Pollination is a big job. In commercial agriculture, it’s a task that has been dominated by European honeybees for years, but Eric Pond has plans to employ a more diverse crew. Eric, who oversees farming operations for Homegrown blueberry farms in Oregon, has been interested in bees since early in his farming career. Recent news of the honeybee decline peaked his interest again and prompted him to think on a bigger scale about pollination solutions.

“I thought, wait a minute here, let’s not be reliant on European honeybees, let’s try and figure out what else is out there,” Eric said, noting that before bringing in honeybees was the norm in commercial farming, pollination occurred naturally.

Eric tasked an agronomist to catalog all of the insect life on Riverbend Organic Farm in Jefferson, Oregon and also reached out to the entomologists at the conservation non-profit The Xerces Society to find out how to better cultivate an environment where bumblebees and other native pollinators could thrive.

“There are a lot of native pollinators out there; when you dig into this thing, it’s complex,” Eric said.

In addition to bumblebees, which are able to work in colder and wetter conditions than honeybees, are sweat bees, dragonflies, butterflies, moths, and all sorts of flies. There is also some question about how creating undisturbed beetle banks could affect the overall ecosystem of the farm.

How to play host to bumblebees in an agricultural setting was a new question for The Xerces Society, and discovering what works is new territory for both the organization and in the Ag industry.

The goal is to provide year-round food sources for these insects. In order to do this, Eric is  planting non-fruiting, flowering plants in the uncultivated areas of the farm that will bloom before and after the blueberries. Wildflowers were seeded into the recently reconstructed levee built for flood protection, and bee-friendly flowers are used in the landscaping around the on-farm homes and offices. Even the weeds in the field are seen as contributors to the cause.

The quest to welcome native pollinators is also opening doors to farming practices of the past. When The Xerces Society identified a location where native bees would have difficultly flying from one habitat space to the other because of the distance, Eric decided to put in a hedgerow to bridge the gap.

“We’re bringing back the European hedgerow. We’re really excited about this,” he said.

The steps being taken at Riverbend Organic Farm will be adapted to other Homegrown farms in Oregon, taking into consideration the natural landscape and existing ecology of each farm. The investment in creating more habitat for native pollinators, Eric believes, will come back to the farm in the form of productivity, as increased pollination by bumblebees and other native insects contribute to better yields at harvest.

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