Blue bee

Categories: All about bees, Bee species |

Despite the absence of honey bees in some villages, in most cases, there is a crop of apples, pears, cherries and plums. The question arises: who pollinated these fruit trees? The answer is simple – the solitary bees and bumblebees, which are in each area. Bumble beekeeping is a complicated matter, but some solitary bees are easy to keep. An increase in their population can provide a reliable pollination of gardens even in the absence of honey bees.

Blue bee (1)

These bees have chosen the life of a smart strategy – they are only active in the spring, when there are many flowering plants. Gardens fade, and osmium bees disappear, leaving only cells filled with pollen and eggs. They, in contrast to honey bees, do not collect honey and pollen reserves for a rainy day, when there is no harvest.

Fans of the honey bee can say that it is impossible to compare the pollination potential of the family of 20 thousand bees and a handful of bees osmia. But in the spring, most bees are busy with growing of brood and honey collecting, while osmia mainly collect pollen, but nectar – only for their own consumption. One visit to the flower of an Osmia bee has pollination efficiency 5 times more than of the honey bee, that is explained by the features of the pollen-collecting organ of Osmia – the entire surface of the abdomen. It is estimated that to pollinate one hectare garden you need two families of honey bees or only 530 females of Osmia, during the 15-day period one Osmia female visits 22,523 flowers of apple.

These bees more and more widely used to pollinate orchards. For example, in Japan, in 1981 only 10% of gardens were pollinate by local Osmia horned bees (Osmia cornifrons), in 1990 – already 50%, and in 2000 – 80%. These bees were brought to the United States and used with the local blue bees (Osmia lignaria). In the U.S. and Canada, there are a number of laboratories in universities, which have been intensively engaged in the study of biology, blue bees breeding and use of these bees to pollinate crops. There are a number of companies that sell artificial nests, paper and cane tubes, breeding material, provide farmers and the public with the information about Osmia breeding. There are books, manuals, videos. 

How could you increase the population of Osmia bees? It is very simple. Similarly, like you increase the number of starlings in any area by hanging of birdhouses. The fact that the amount of Osmia in nature is greatly limited by the lack of good places to nest, and they prefer to nest in reed tubes with a diameter of 6-10 mm (0.3”) and a length of 10-20 cm (8”). You can cut these tubes and hang them under the roof peaks, hiding them from rain and midday sun. And the local population of Osmia will slowly settle these tubes, the number of Osmia will increase, providing a reliable pollination of gardens. If that fails, you have to buy the initial quantity of cocoons of Osmia bees. It is enough a hundred of cocoons for pollination of a garden, of which 25-30 females will be released and hundreds tubes (one female can colonize 2-3 tubes). The calculation is simple – it is enough 1-2 females for pollination of one tree, but keep in mind that some of your bees will work for your neighbors.

Blue bee (2)

Besides improved pollination there are other reasons to breed these bees. There are several:

1. Why do we plant flowers – there is almost no benefits, but there is aesthetic pleasure. Osmia bees are beautiful and delight the eye, working in the spring in their tubes. If you later breed more southern species, horned Osmia, you will have at home the most beautiful bees in the world – it is quite large (the size of a drone) thick black and red bumblebees. That is the first answer. In addition, the cultivation and sale of flowers for some is full-fledged business. Breeding of Osmia can also be a good business.

2. Osmia beekeeping – it is when you breed bees, but not for honey, but for the purpose of pollination. It is very interesting to do. There are hundred steps to improve the lives of bees. The only difference is that honeybees are well studied. But the behavior of Osmia bees is known less, and there is a wide field of research, there is a chance to do a little, new discovery.

3. To understand the nature of bees, you need to understand their diversity. Children also should be taught from childhood to observe nature and, in particular, the nature of bees. Osmia, in contrast to honey bees, are absolutely safe. They can be bred by every pupil, not only in rural areas, even in an apartment on the balcony, if you do not live above the fifth floor. If a child loves Osmia bees from childhood, there is a good chance that in the future he will love honey bees and become the beekeeper. Osmia are absolutely harmless for the health of the child. They never protect their nests.

Blue bee (3)

4. There is also the financial aspect. Cocoons of Osmia are valued even in the domestic market. The main consumers are owners of small greenhouses, for which using of honey bees to pollinate cucumbers is much more expensive. Already there are examples when individual beekeepers get  600-800 dollars for a month of working with Osmia. Cocoons of Osmia are in demand, but we need to have an association of producers to generate large quantities of cocoons, to develop quality assessment, improve the control of pests, etc. This requires wide research.

Where to start? The main strategy is to try to catch Osmia bees from the natural environment.  And if you can not, you can try to buy cocoons of Osmia for breeding. 

Blue bee (4)

First, in winter, you should prepare river reed, then cut out the tubes with a diameter of 6-10 mm (0.3”) and a length of 10-20 cm (8”).  Tube must be closed. Marsh reed is almost unusable, because the diameter of the stem is small.

Second, tie tube in bundles of 20-50 pieces with insulating tape or narrow tape, hang them in different places under the roof peaks, where they will not be exposed to rain and midday sun. It is advisable to place them in different parts of your area and even in neighboring villages, as there are areas where a lot of Osmia and vice versa. Hang the tubes no later than mid-April, before the beginning of the active season of Osmia. Especiallythere is a high probability of success in the villages, where there are still the old thatched roofs.

Then, in August, you should “harvest” sealed by Osmia tubes and protect them from birds, mice, wasps till next spring.  It is easier to keep them outside in a closed box or old hive. Local osmium are not afraid of frost, but imported (very beautiful) ones are needed to be protected from severe cold.

If you do all this, then after a couple of years will reach a beginner level. And then in Osmia-keeping, as in everything else, you need to improve the technology and learn how to defend Osmia from diseases, pests and parasites. Five years later you will be a professional-Osmia beekeeper. Here, as in bee-keeping, less than five years, you will not become a real beekeeper.

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