Bee Blog

Time to count your native bees in your orchards!!

Apple bee communities: what’s a-buzz in New Hampshire Orchards?

What a crazy Spring, eh? I went swimming in the sunshine and then huddled under 3 thick blankets a day later. Hopefully, our native bees are taking it in stride because bloom is here!

With blankets across my lap, I recently chatted with Anna Wallingford, the UNH Cooperative Extension State Specialist, Entomology & IPM and Alina Harris, Integrated Pest and Pollinator Management Specialist,      The Xerces Society & NRCS Partner Biologist, about their Integrated Pest & Pollinator Management (IPPM) Project in New Hampshire Apple Orchards. They will be testing pollinator & landscape assessment tools to evaluate the abundance of native bees contributing to apple pollination in New Hampshire apple orchards. We are excited that our NEPP app will be assessing the bee community and grower practices while the Beescape landscape evaluation tool will assess the habitat quality around the orchard.

Inspiration for project

Anna and Alina were inspired to implement this research to build relationships with the grower community in New Hampshire.  “We want to learn about what technology they use, how and why they use it, and their cultural management practices as well as their overall philosophy.” said Anna. The goals of the project      are to identify the bee community and identify pollinator habitat that is already existing in and surrounding      the orchards. Sharing their findings with growers will provide a segue to educating growers about the bees they are finding in their orchard and sharing information about the best (IPPM) management practices for protecting bees while also protecting their crops.

This project is an opportunity to see where extension, NRCS, and Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation can support and engage growers but also learn from each other so that they can better work together to provide service to growers. Their hope is that building relationships with growers will help the growers feel more comfortable reaching out to extension or NRCS for their expertise.

Data Collection

Anna, Alina, and Xerces teammates Hannah Mullally, and Kelly Gill will use the NEPP app to record the weather, and the number of visits from native bees versus honey bees in a 5-minute period in a 1 sq meter area for each observation.  The model that the App was based off determines that a tree is getting efficient pollination if there are at least 4 visits from native bees in the 5-minute window in the 1 sq meter area.

Their team will visit each orchard one time and take multiple observations.  At least three observations will be conducted in the center of the orchard, farthest away from any edge habitat. See Bee Abundance Analysis. Three more observations will be conducted about three rows (5-15 meters) in from the edge of the orchard section. In previous studies at Cornell and University of Wisconsin researchers have found diminished visitation by wild bees at the center of very large orchards. However, orchards here in the northeast and especially up in New Hampshire tend to be smaller and tucked up against forests, which offer nest habitat and floral resources to bees. As a result, they predict New Hampshire orchards do not rely on honey bees for pollination and they predict that native bee visitation will be about the same near the edge and in the center for this region. That would be good news for pollinator health and the future of apple pollination!

Grower support

This collaborative project between UNH Extension, NRCS and Xerces will run for two years. This first year they will deliver a packet of apple IPPM management information to each participating grower.  It will include information on native bees, basic identification, and their habitats on the farm.  Recognition of these existing habitats within or abutting the orchard may inspire growers to protect pollinators from pesticides and reduce their reliance on purchased/rented honey bees or bumble bees.  Furthermore, some of the same habitats support beneficial insects that attack orchard pests.  The apple IPPM team will distribute information on preventative cultural techniques such as field sanitizing (destroying infested plant tissue), that are used in concert with other pest management techniques.  Since many New England growers rely on pesticides to produce a marketable crop, information also includes how to use those protective materials in the most accurate way, such as scouting, trapping, or using weather models to determine economic thresholds which then triggers pesticide intervention decisions.  Part of using pesticides accurately is regularly calibrating pesticide application equipment, which has been a topic that UNH Extension, NRCS, and Xerces has united in promoting to growers.  “Alongside the orchardists, we are learning the intricate dance between pollinator conservation that sustains crop production, and a marketable crop that feeds our local community.” said Alina.

Here at NEPP, we were grateful to hear that our neighbors over in New Hampshire will be getting involved in this fun and meaningful research. The more we learn the more we can help our northeast apple growers.

May your flowers bloom and bee visited often!

Interested in assessing how many native bees are in your orchard? Here is how. (If you see 4 or more native bees visiting a flower in a one-sq meter area in 5-minutes, you can celebrate. If not, then read our previous blog about NY pollinator protection and attracting more native bees to your land.)

How to survey your bees – apple bloom 2018!

Count bees on your apple blossoms NOW!

While just before and just after bloom are good bee counting days, peak bloom is the prime time for assessing the contribution of your bees to your orchard.


  1. 1. Go to the Bee Count page on our website. There you will find access to the next three steps.
  2. 2. Study the Native Bee ID training materials (Bee Count page)
  3. 3. Watch the Bee Counting Instructions Video (Bee Count page)
  4. 4. Download the Bee Count App. (Bottom of Bee Count page) or go directly to the App here.
  5. 5. When peak bloom is here…  Submit a bee count survey 3-5 times in each orchard lot, on a sunny day with greater than 60˚F temperature.  Make sure to be at least 10 meters from outer edge of orchard for a more conservative estimate.
  6. 6. Email us if you have any questions.

Check out our 2017 bloom summary to see what we learned last year.

Happy Spring

The Northeast Pollinator Partnership

Wild Bees Got Strategy

These native bees got strategy: how native bees deal with weather extremes.

All bees have the same goal: To create, protect and nourish their growing eggs, larvae and pupae.  Native bee species spend most of their life in their nest and they are small and elusive.  The mystery of it all makes it easy to suspect the worst but actually native bees indigenous to NY are possibly better equipped for these variable and extreme weather events than one might think.  To this end bee species have developed multiple ways to deal with variable and often extreme weather conditions like our recent late summer 2016 drought and wet and cold spring 2017.

Example of a moisture barrier (waxy film) in a ground nesting bee (Colletes); Photo credit:

Some bee species line their nest with a waxy substance that has water repelling properties to the outside and moisture retention properties to the inside to prevent extra moisture from entering the nesting cell as well as preventing their brood from desiccating (see photo).  Extra moisture in nesting cells makes pollen provisions prone to fungal infection.

Another bee strategy is to produce quickly developing offspring that mature into workers and new reproductive females within the same season giving them multiple chances to lay and provision eggs each year.

And still other bee species stagger the development of their offspring by entire years so that they will emerge at a variety of times (same season, next season or delayed emergence for 2 or more seasons).

The latter strategy is common in desert regions where unpredictable drought conditions occur.   This delayed emergence is possible because bees diapause. Diapause is where the bee goes into a state of low metabolic activity during the winter months to conserve energy until the following season, very similar to a bear’s need to hibernate. It’s possible our NY bees utilize a similar delayed emergence strategy as desert bees to deal with the unpredictable wet spring and late summer drought conditions we can experience here in the northeast. Native bees are not opposed to hedging their bets and may have coined the term, “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket”.

While there is still much to learn about species response to extreme weather conditions in the northeast, research has repeatedly encountered bee nests in irrigated agricultural fields, leading us to believe many bees have the ability to deal with excess water. Reports on ground-nesting bee response to flood-like conditions is less predictable. While some bees can survive hurricane flooding, other bee populations have been decimated when the water table gets too high or river banks flood.

Preliminary analyses of Smartphone bee survey

Figure 1. Temperature at which bees exceed required minimum for adequate pollination of apple per 5 minute survey (> 60˚F)

We can’t yet determine how last years’ drought and the wet, cold ‘apple bloom’ weather impacted early Spring native bee population survival.  Our survey data from this wet Spring 2017 shows that most bees were not foraging at efficient proportions until the temperature was above 60˚F and sunny (Figure 1) and bumble bees and carpenter bees pulled the weight for most of the weather-affected orchards.  These are some of the few species that are known to fly in inclement weather.  Thankfully, many growers who were impacted by the wet weather conditions have reported that they received sufficient pollination for successful apple production this year.

Figure 2. Native bee and honey bee abundance depends on pesticide management program (2017).

Based on the App data that many of you submitted, IPM growers experienced slightly higher native bee counts in their orchards (Figure 2). Considering that the conventional orchards who submitted data were surrounded by 14% more forage habitat (p = 0.02; natural landscape and pollinator dependent crops) it’s possible this difference would have been greater.

In conclusion we will need to wait and see what next year brings. A poor foraging season one year can cause a dip in the population the following year, but bounce back after a few good foraging seasons.  To monitor native bee resilience, it will be even more important for all of you to use our Bee Survey app next apple bloom.

Reminder: Individual participant recommendations will be distributed in August!

Here Comes the Bloom!

Make sure you are ready to do your 5-minute bee observation.

Watch closely and you will see bee visitation to your apple flowers steadily increase through peak bloom. Peak bloom is the best time to do your surveys, but a little before or a little after peak is ok too.

Apple at tight cluster, Photo by Jim Eve, 2017

Make sure you are prepared:

What to expect after you submit your 3-5 independent surveys to us through the app

After you submit the surveys and the apple bloom is over, we will begin analyses using your submitted bee counts and data.  In late Summer or early Fall we will send you a summary of your bee data in comparison with orchards that are in your geographic range- along with a personalized recommendation based on your data.  Depending on what you decide to do with this information, this will give you time to enhance your management plans before winter.

Colletes inaequalis male on Red Maple

The data you submitted last year allowed us to identify differences between IPM and Conventional orchards, with the additional data you submit this year we hope to see region specific trends.  You can see a full discussion of our Spring 2016 data in our January blog.

What Are We at NEPP Up To?

Here at Northeast Pollinator Partnership we have been climbing trees looking at pre-apple bloom bee communities that forage on early blooming trees like red maples, sugar maples serviceberry and oaks.  We are finding native bees getting geared up to flock to your trees.  Males and females are busy mating, making their nests, suckling nectar from these high-in-the-sky flowers and getting ready to pounce on your apple blossoms.  Once we identify all these bees to species, we will be able to tell you which trees are attracting the most native bees to your orchard with focus on the bee species that are most efficient at pollinating apple. We will continue these bee surveys of native trees around orchards straight through apple bloom and beyond.

Preparing to climb Sugar Maple

Don’t forget to tell all your friends about this web accessible bee count survey! We want as broad of a geographic range as possible.

Happy Bee Counting!

All the best,

Maria van Dyke and the rest of us at NEPP

2016 Bee Abundance Analyses

Greetings apple growers!

We have some fun results to share. This report provides you a description of how we developed our model and a first year evaluation of your native bee community in your orchard. We are happy to find that we have very conclusive data just in our first year.

Why should you care about your native bee population?

A diverse native bee community not only supports plant diversity but it also has potential to drive pollination in apple.  Our 8 years of historical data show us that native bee abundance influences production of apple by increasing seed set (Figure 1; P = 0.008), while honey bee abundance has NO EFFECT (P= 0.36) on seed set, a similar result found in several other crop systems (Garibaldi et al, 2013).  Many studies have overwhelmingly determined that increased seed set influences uniformity of fruit shape (Figure 2), thus producing a higher proportion of Grade A fruits for market.

Using our historical data on pesticide use, surrounding natural habitat and the relationship between native bee abundance and seed set (figure 1; Park et al, 2015), we developed criteria for determining whether an orchard has enough native bees present during bloom time to provide full and efficient pollination.  Our original 15 minute ‘aerial net’ surveys determined that, if we catch an average of 9 native bees/15 min, the orchard is heavily dependent on native bees and would not be pollinator limited if honey bees were not present.

Validating and incorporating Smartphone data into our prediction model

In order to make connections between our historical data and the smartphone survey App data, we ran parallel 15-min ‘net’ surveys at multiple orchards and correlated native bee counts from ‘aerial net’ collections to the ‘smartphone App’ counts (figure 3).  Using the ‘equation’ of the slope of the trendline of that relationship, we calculated the expected ‘value’ of native bees that we would expect the app to record by inputting the significant value of 9 native bees/ 15 minutes (the significant historical net collection count) for X (see equation in figure 3). The result for the smartphone App count (Y) rounded to the nearest whole number was ‘4’ native bees per 5-minutes.  Therefore you need to count at least 4 native bees/5-min survey (on average) to conclude that you rely heavily on native bees (see lower orange line in figure 5).

IPM techniques: an easy step to take that benefits native bees

The smartphone data show us that growers who consider themselves ‘conventional’ have lower native bee averages than growers who consider themselves ‘IPM’ (See figure 4 below).  This suggests that a ‘conventional’ grower who is concerned about native bees could simply incorporate more IPM practices and potentially see an increase in native bee abundance over 3-5 years, that time range being the minimum time it takes native bees to respond to habitat enhancements.  It is important to note that this response is strong even considering the broad use of the term IPM that growers identify with.

Results for 2016 participants

The graph in Figure 5, below, highlights the 19 orchards that submitted at least 3 surveys this year; each bar is the ‘average’ count of native bees per 5-minutes across all surveys.  Seven orchards (M-S) have four or more native bees per 5-minutes. Using the predictive model that takes into account the year-to-year flux of native bee populations and uses GPS data, we can make recommendations.

For example, even though Orchard M (Figure 5) is surrounded by a large amount of natural habitat, they just barely meet the 4 native bees criteria. Given that they identify their pesticide program as ‘conventional’, we determine that they ride the edge of supporting a robust enough native bee population especially in bad weather years.  As a management recommendation we would suggest that they incorporate more IPM practices.

In the case of Orchard Q, we determine they have a robust native bee community but given that they are a conventional orchard we would recommend they either create more native bee habitat (forage & nesting sites) or tighten up their IPM practices to buffer years with low native bee populations, especially if they did not want to rent honey bees.

Orchards R and S easily meet all criteria and rely heavily on native bees for pollination insurance in the face of honey bee decline.

2016 participants will be receiving individualized feedback with in the next 24 hours.

Looking towards spring 2017 we are excited to add to this growing data set and make new connections to more growers.  Get your neighbor growers to use the app, compare results with them.  We want to share this with all New York apple growers.

The New York State Pollinator Protection Plan: What Does This Mean For Apple Growers?

Pollinators, both wild and managed, are essential to the successful production of fruits and vegetables in New York State and across the country. We are happy to announce that New York is one of the first 10 states to officially adopt a Pollinator Protection Plan focused on developing diverse strategies for conserving NYS pollinator populations. While much of the plan is directed at state agencies, there are many actions that address grower practices and management of orchard habitats. Here we highlight some of the recommendations set forth in the New York State Pollinator Protection Plan that are relevant to apple growers.

As an orchard owner or manager, you may be wondering

  • What are the pollinator conservation practices that I can implement in order to conserve wild and managed pollinators at my orchard?
  • Is there funding to help me meet these new recommended best management practices?
  • What are some of the research priorities identified in the pollinator protection plan?

To answer these questions let’s look at the relevant Best Management Practice recommendations, potential landowner funding, research goals, and outreach and education resources for growers and landowners.

Best Management Practices

  • Apply Integrated Pest Management (IPM).
  • Use registered pesticides according to the label.
  • Reduce non-target species exposure to pesticides by mowing weeds before applying insecticides.
  • Avoid pesticides with cautions on the label that read “toxic to bees”
  • Avoid tank mixing insecticides with fungicides.
  • Protect natural water sources from spray and cover or remove artificial water sources during application.
  • Communicate spray schedule with all parties, especially beekeepers so that they are aware of impending applications (38-48 hrs prior to application).  The mapping and notification system can facilitate communication among crop producers, beekeepers and pesticide applicators.
  • Avoid drift & reduce non-target species exposure to pesticides:
    • Spray only at times when there are the least number of pollinators on the flowers, usually dusk or dawn depending on the crop.
    • Avoid spraying on windy days and use granular formulations, soil treatments or equipment that confines the spray to the intended target.
  • Improve or Increase pollinator habitat: Set aside or create natural habitat to provide safe sites for native bees and honey bees.
    • Plant native plants for bee forage.
    • Plant native green strips for pollinator forage, selecting flowering plants with three seasons of bloom and without seed treatment. See Xerces Planting Guides: Great Lakes Region, or Mid-Atlantic Region.
    • When creating habitat, try to include at least 15 species with 3 flowering species in each bloom period, as well as grasses, shrubs and dead wood that provide nesting habitat.
    • State agencies will be increasing pollinator habitat in Rights-of-way. Some of these ROW’s may be near your orchards.


For landowners like you, New York State Agriculture and Markets will communicate to the federal government the need to increase the rate of funding for creating and setting aside pollinator habitat under the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) to make it a viable option for farmers.

Research goals

The need for baseline data on many species of native pollinators, such as the data we are collecting as part of the Northeast Pollinator Partnership, is essential to understanding how to conserve their populations. This research will serve as the foundation for developing and implementing future conservation practices and determine the effectiveness of the BMPs proposed by the plan.

The plan sets aside Environmental Protection Funds ($500,000) aimed to:

  • Continue research on how pesticides and pathogens interact to influence bumblebee and mason bee health across habitats, cropping systems and land management styles.
  • Gather baseline data on the status and distribution of native bee species in NY’s natural and agricultural lands and continue to clarify their role in the pollination of commercial crops, especially apple.

Outreach & Education

To increase awareness about the native, wild bee populations of NY and the problems facing them, the Pollinator Protection Plan tasks DEC, NYSTA, NYSDOT, OPRHP, and Cornell University & Cornell Cooperative Extension to:

  • Enhance their outreach and education materials, including high quality exhibits, presentations and public service announcements.
  • Create high quality exhibits for growers and the greater public.
  • Educate both the industry and the public on the use of IPM in regard to protecting native bees and honey bees
  • The Pesticide & Crop Advisor Training and Certification Programs must incorporate pollinator-specific pesticide management information into education modules, including knowledge of wild bee biology and the importance of wild bees for agricultural pollination.
  • Work with lawn and garden industries to ensure proper labeling and pesticide use.

How does the NEPP fit in?

We believe that the Northeast Pollinator Partnership is a program that clearly addresses a number of the research and extension priorities identified by the NYS Pollinator Protection Plan. First, the NEPP is gathering data on short-term and long-term fluctuations in pollinator abundance across NY state. Second, the NEPP provides data for assessing the effectiveness of BMPs for pollinator conservation. Finally, the NEPP includes an outreach and public education program specifically focused on raising awareness of the importance of wild pollinators for orchard pollination. We are confident that the NEPP is well-aligned with the objectives of the NYS Pollinator Protection Plan and we look forward to working with growers to develop the best strategies for pollinator management.

This NYS Protection Plan is a living document, subject to periodic review and will be updated to incorporate new findings for improving pollinator health as they are acquired.

Welcome to Summertime: The Data is In!

We truly appreciate all your participation this past spring in conducting bee surveys using the Smartphone app Survey tool. We gathered substantial data and learned a great deal about how to make the app even better for next year’s apple bloom.

Here at NEPP Headquarters we are busy analyzing all of your Spring survey data. Our participant summary shows that across 262 data entries we have data on approximately 30 orchards. These data points are spread across 4 states including 10 counties in NY, 2 counties in Connecticut and 1 county each in Maine and Massachusetts. The majority of users were orchard growers, researchers and teacher/students followed by orchard consultants and cooperative extension. Each user took data between 2 and 10 times. This is significant considering this was our first season. (See Summary Table)

NEPP Survey App Summary Table 2016

Summary of User Data                     
# of data points 262
# of Orchards ~30
# of counties in NY 10
# of counties total 14
# of States 4  (NY, MA, CT, ME)
User Type (Total # of Users = 22)
# backyard-naturalist 1
# commercial orchard grower 5
# orchard consultant 2
# cornell cooperative extension 2
# researcher 8
 # teacher-or-student 4
Orchard Type (Total # of Data Points = 260)
conventional 95
IPM 157
organic 7
backyard-garden 1
Average # of bees per orchard type                            
wild bees  honey bees
conventional 2.5  6.0
IPM 3.9  5.7
backyard-garden 6.0  10.0
organic 2.3  3.7

Your data shows that early bloom began between May 9th and 12th. And peak bloom ranged from the 17th to the 22nd of May. Compared to our historical data this was 2-4 days shorter than other years. This is not surprising considering sub-lethal damage caused by the April freeze in many areas.

As hoped, we see meaningful trends in regards to the effects of management technique and temperature on wild bee species vs honey bee abundance. IPM management techniques are significantly correlated with increased wild bee abundance across sites (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Comparing native bee abundances across IPM and Conventionally managed orchards.

As for bee foraging response to temperature, both honey bees and wild bees show increasing abundance with increasing temperatures. We see a slight tendency for honey bees to be a bit more dependent on warmer temperatures than the wild bee population (Figure 2).

Figure 2. How do native and honey bees respond to changing temperature?

For sites that we have previously sampled using standardized aerial netting, the wild bee abundance data looks comparable. As we dig further in to the data we will be looking at how your bee populations correlate with surrounding landscape and eventually be able make some regional and individual predictions about the ability of your wild native bee populations to provide full and efficient pollination.

It was very exciting for us that our app detected a 2016 trend showing increased honey bee abundance on specific sites we have been monitoring for several years. We learned that many growers had rented extra honey bees this season in order to compensate for the damage done to the apple blossoms during the April freeze. Orchard growers find that even if the bud damage is very low, apple blossoms can die more quickly when affected by a hard frost. Therefore, orchards that DO NOT normally rent honey bees, rented honey bees this year and orchards that normally DO rent honey bees rented even more hives than usual to ensure that they would get pollinated quickly if blossoms did not last more than a day or two. Being able to compare historical data with our 2016 NEPP App Survey data we found that this explains much of why we see higher-than-normal levels of honey bee abundance in many orchards this year.

Exciting news for next years apple bloom! We are making some important changes to the Survey app and will be providing additional support both in the App and on the website. This year we learned how important it is to get GPS points and bee data when it is NOT cloudy. While bees can be active during partly cloudy weather, fully cloudy weather distorted accurate recording of lat/long coordinates, which limits data analyses on certain survey submissions. This update along with supportive hints and increased functionality of temp and GPS and auto-fill systems will ensure increased user friendliness.

Thanks for your efforts! Keep your antennae perked for our next blog about the recently launched and wisely developed New York State Pollinator Protection Plan.

Comparing Native Bee vs Honey Bee Effectiveness

We are often asked by apple growers (and the general public) whether wild bees are effective apple pollinators in comparison to honey bees. This is not always an easy question to answer because measuring pollinator importance requires that we quantify two things: (1) pollinator abundance and (2) per-visit effectiveness.

Measuring Pollinator Importance

Pollinator abundance is an obvious correlate of pollinator importance – bees that are more common and visit apple flowers more frequently are likely to be more important pollinators than bees that are rare or visit apple flowers infrequently. Data we collect via the app will allow us to quantify pollinator abundance at your orchard and across the region. But pollinator abundance is only part of the equation because some pollinators may be more effective on a per-visit basis than others.

Per-visit effectiveness can be defined in a variety of ways but generally refers to how many pollen grains are deposited per flower visit or how many seeds are set per flower visit. Per-visit effectiveness will depend heavily on how a pollinator interacts with the floral morphology. A pollinator that walks around on the petals of the apple flower and takes nectar will not be as effective as a pollinator that lands on the reproductive parts of the flower and collects (and deposits) pollen.

We have spent a LOT of time trying to quantify per-visit effectiveness of various kinds of bees over the past few years. Our results suggest that, on a per-visit basis, wild bees are nearly four times more effective than honey bees. This means that an apple grower needs just 1/4 as many wild bees as honey bees to have the same level of pollination services in their apple orchard.

How This Survey Will Help Growers

First hand data that each apple grower submits to our NEPP data collection app will allow us to assess the level of pollination services provided by wild bees and honey bees at each eastern apple orchard. Based on the data you collect, we can then make specific data-driven recommendations back to you on whether or not (and at what level) to rent honey bees. These data will also allow us to monitor pollinator population levels across regions of the Northeast as well as over time.

So, please take a moment to visit the project website, download the app, and become familiar with the data collection protocols we have posted there. After you watch the video and scroll through photos of wild bees and honey bees you should be ready to start collecting data. Once you are familiar with the app, each data collection event should take no more than 10 minutes. Keep in mind that we need at least three observations at each site and more observations across a range of temperatures and days would also be extremely helpful.

We look forward to working with you to assess the pollination services at your orchard.

Where Do Bees Do Winter?

Winter has finally arrived in New York (and the rest of the Northeast). It is hard to imagine how bees – animals that love sun and warmth – are able to survive the cold northern hemisphere winter. Do they go south and spend the winter on a sunny beach in Florida? Or do they stick it out (like us humans) hunkered down at home?

The only bees that have the luxury of a winter vacation in Florida are the managed honey bees (Apis mellifera). Many of the migratory (mobile) bee colonies that are commercially managed in the US migrate to warmer places in the winter. This can be a strategy for reducing colony mortality over the winter months, which can be as high as 40% in some years.

In contrast, the wild (non-managed) bees that are so important to apple pollination need to stick it out up here, in chilly upstate NY. No Florida vacations for the native solitary and social bees that we described in our last blog post. These bees, in contrast to honey bees, enter an extended diapause over the winter. Bumble bee queens, for example, mate in the Fall and then find a sheltered cavity in a wood pile, old stone wall, or mouse burrow to wait out the winter months. Bumblebee queens are enormous, with extensive fat reserves to carry them through the winter and to fuel their early spring nest searching.

Most solitary, ground-nesting bees (such as Andrena, Halictus, Agapostemon, Lasioglossum, and Colletes) are in their underground nests in a similar state of diapause. Their metabolic rates have dropped and they are in a state of suspended animation within the underground brood cells produced by their mother.

Stem and cavity nesting bees (such as mason bees and leaf cutter bees; Osmia and Megachile) are in a similar state of suspended animation (diapause), but their nests are above ground and hence experience even more dramatic shifts in temperature than those overwintering in the ground. Wood-boring carpenter bees (such as Xylocopa) remain within their mother’s nest and hunker down with their siblings to pass the cold winter months.

As an apple grower, you can rest assured that, even as the cold winds of February blow, the hard-working solitary bees are still here, spending the winter literally under our noses. Overwintering as an adult means that they are ready to emerge as soon as the weather warms up and the early spring flowers start to bloom. Think of these bees as the Punxsutawney Phils of the insect world – ready to emerge from the ground when conditions look right. But they still have a few more months of restful diapause before spring arrives in this part of the world.

The Secret Life of Bees

In addition to providing tools for monitoring wild bee populations in apple orchards, the NEPP seeks to educate orchardists, backyard naturalists and the public about these economically and ecologically important wild pollinators.  Who are they? How do they thrive? How can we help?

Many Kinds of Bees

Since 2008 we have learned a great deal about the biology, diversity and ecology of the wild bees that contribute to NYS apple production. The 120 identified species of bees visiting apple blossoms in New York represent one quarter of the approximately 415 species of bees that occur in New York. In terms of nesting biology, the apple bee fauna is dominated by ground-nesting bees (67% of the species), below-ground: cavity-nesting bees (11% of the species), stem-nesting species (10%) and a small number of wood nesters (carpenter bees).  By the way, the social honey bee is just one of the 120 species.

Solitary Bees and Social Bees

In terms of social behavior, the apple bee fauna is dominated by solitary bees. Bees are termed solitary when each female constructs her own nest, gathers and stores her own pollen/nectar provisions, and guards her own nest against parasites and predators. She is highly dependent on the proximity of nesting substrates and floral resources. Also, solitary bees tend to be active for a relatively short period of time, whereas social bees persist throughout the spring, summer and fall. Therefore, Spring solitary bees tend to be more highly specialized (and dependent) on early spring flowering trees (such as apple) than their social relatives, potentially making them more effective pollinators.

Attracting Native Bees

So, what does this mean for apple growers who want to maintain a healthy local, wild bee fauna? First, apple growers should provide a diversity of nesting materials for wild bees in and around their orchards. Ground nesters being the most abundant species in apple orchards will benefit from the availability of disturbed, loose soil (‘bee beds’). We recommend tilling a small area along the edge of the orchard to a depth of 10-12 inches in order to provide loose soil for ground-nesting bees. Carpenter bees can benefit from fallen trees, and weathered lumber in and around the orchard. Bumblebees will likely benefit from stone walls, mammal burrows, and brush piles. Stem-nesters, such as mason bees utilize hollow plant stems & branches as well as wooden blocks and cardboard tubes of the right diameter which can be purchased commercially.

Learn More

For more information about the diversity of wild bees in NY apple orchards, see our published guide “Wild Pollinators of Eastern Apple Orchards” available at