Alien dwellings? Zombie shelters? What are these blue sheds facing the sunrise?

blue sheds
Photo credit: Bill Buhrig
Q:

There is a chunk of farmland between Ontario and Vale that has a number of small, blue shacks on it (mostly on the north side of Hwy 20). Driving past (at highway speeds) we could not figure out what they were for. They appear to be all opening to the same direction (southeast) and are empty, or mostly so, though I thought I could see shelves or similar in them. Do you have any idea what they are for?

- Malheur County, OR
A:

The field the buildings are located are alfalfa seed production fields. In order for pollination and subsequent seed set to take place, leafcutter bees are used. These bees seem to be more efficient in alfalfa seed production than honeybees. I have read where growers feel their seed yield can be increased 30-50% using leafcutter bees. That is where the little blue houses come in. They contain perforated boards or Styrofoam that give the leafcutter bees a chance to call home when they are not working out in the field. Houses are painted blue because it is believed that the bees see them better and can find their way home a bit easier each evening!

I really appreciate how you noticed the specific direction they are pointed. The houses point toward the general direction of the sunrise so they warm up faster in the morning to help provide a wake up call. I wish I could do that for my teenage daughter!

Bill Buhrig
Extension Crops Agent
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