87 Steve Peterson – How To Make Mason Bees Thrive?


Speaker 1: From the Oregon State University Extension Service, this is Pollination, a podcast that tells the stories of researchers, land managers, and concerned citizens making bold strides to improve the health of pollinators.

I'm your host, Dr. Adoni Melopoulos, assistant professor in pollinator health in the Department of Horticulture. It has been cold and it might be a little deceptive, but right around the corner we are going to be emerging our mason bees here in Oregon, and I thought this was a good opportunity to catch up with Steve Peterson, who runs Foothill Bee Ranch. Steve caught my eye a few years ago because he has this really great article that he wrote with Dan Arts called The Production of Solitary Bees for Pollination in the United States. He's been working with cavity nesting bees for an awfully long time, and I finally got to meet him at the Orchard Bee Association meetings, which is an annual meeting that takes place in December every year. It was an excellent meeting, and I think Lila Westreich, one of our former guests, talked glowingly about how intimate and informative that meeting was.

Anyway, one morning I caught up with Steve, and we were opening the doors to the meeting. We sat outside at a picnic table, and I picked his brain on how to be successful with Osmeal Agneria, the Blue Orchard Bee, which I'm sure will help many of you get started with these bees in the spring. Also, if you are interested in these bees, you really have to attend the Bee Vent Pollinator Conference, which is on March 2nd, Saturday, in Albany, Oregon, from 8 am to 5 pm. I'm going to link the event details on those show notes, but it's going to have lots of practical information on how to keep these bees. But in the meantime, here are some pearls of wisdom from Steve Peterson of Foothill Bee Ranch.

Speaker 2: We are headed right after this to the Orchard Bee Association meeting, the annual meeting. It's like, I think one of the best-kept secrets in the bee world is you get this really, with a small meeting, and you get to meet all the major people from USDA, from industry, university researchers, we have somebody from Cincinnati Zoo. So tell us a little bit about this association's meeting and what's going on today.

Speaker 2: Well, we've been having these annual meetings for about nine years now, and we meet on a Friday and a Saturday in the winter, usually, and it's really, you know, it started off pretty small. A group of people interested in making osmium bees more available to people and in more use in agriculture and people's gardens. And so every year, I think we grow a little bit and get a little bit better at getting our message out and adding new people to the group. Today we're, we usually have a good group of scientists that are studying the bee to come in and give us presentations about what's the latest going on, you know, what they're learning about with the bee. We get practitioners out there to talk about what they've learned and just a lot of great discussions and, you know, everybody, one thing that's nice about this group, everybody is willing to share what they've learned. There's not a lot of people sort of keeping their secrets, you know.

Speaker 1: It's so great that way. You include it.

Speaker 2: Thank you. I, you know, I have kind of a science background, so that's my instinct is to, you know, do something and then share it with the world so people can learn about it. And if I, if something didn't work, you know, that might save somebody some trouble to not have to repeat that mistake.

Speaker 1: Yeah, that's great for me. Especially somebody who's just starting in the whole orchard bee world. It's been really great for me to be able to pick everybody's brains here and learn. And one thing I found really kind of fascinating is yesterday you gave a presentation where you, I mean, you gave this presentation the year before as well, where you outlined this really interesting project that you've been doing for quite a long time in the foothills of the Sierras. Tell me a little bit about when this got started and what's, what it's all about.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So the first time I really put out nests in a kind of wild habitat was about 96 or 97. I was working with leaf-cutting bees at the time to put them into alfalfa seed in the valley here. And we were looking just a second.

Speaker 1: So yeah, just to keep you all in mind, this is a little bee that people have been working with since the 50s. And it's really good. It comes from Turkey originally and it's really good at pollinating alfalfa. It's the open right.

Speaker 2: Yeah. It's a great little alfalfa seed pollinator. And as, as we've worked with it more, we're finding more and more crops that can pollinate it. Lots of different vegetable seeds and canola, even blueberries. So it's pretty diverse in its menu of things that it'll visit.

Speaker 1: And it was really the only solitary managed bee that we had. So when you started, you were working with this one solitary managed bee. Keep going.

Speaker 2: So we were also looking for a way to diversify our business. And we'd been reading and hearing about the Blue Orchard bee, you know, the Logan Bee Lab had been studying it since the mid-70s. Phil Torchio and Glenn Trossel, who's a part of our group here, are part of that kind of pioneering research on it.

So we wanted to get involved with that. Without, you know, we knew it's, it's sort of been demonstrated to be a great apple pollinator, cherries, almonds, but there just weren't very many of them around. I mean, there were a few people propagating them up in the mountains of Utah. That was about it at the time.

So, okay. We ordered some bees from Utah. And then we also thought, well, let's try and see if we can find them in California too. We knew they should be there.

And so I, you know, started off by drilling holes in two by fours lengthwise with the grain, putting a straw in there and hanging those up in spots. And you pretty quickly start to learn what spots are good and what's part. Sorry, the bees will tell you where they're at and where they're not. Okay.

Speaker 1: Cause they just don't cut. They, there are spots where you put these blocks year after year and a lot of, you don't know, rhyme or reason with the bees. Right.

Speaker 2: Sometimes you look at a place and, oh, this looks really good. It's got everything they need. And you put nice holes out there and nothing. And so, and you might try it. I usually don't totally give up on a spot like that. Maybe try it a couple of years and if there's really nothing, then, then.

But gradually I started to find some better and better spots to drop out the ones that didn't work and, and keep going back to the ones that did. You know, so I've always been interested in these California bees because they are a little bit different than the Utah bees that you get there. They're adapted to California conditions in Utah. There's a kind of a shorter summer and winter comes on quickly and very cold. California, we have this long summer.

It's very hot all the way into September. So the bees have to be adapted to that. So, what they do here is they have a longer larval period. It's actually a pre-pupil stage. They stay in that stage longer than the Utah bees. And it's a kind of summer diapause, or what's called estivation.

Speaker 1: And estivation, they have a summer estivation. It's like a little CS. Yeah.

Speaker 2: They just shut down, and wait for it to start cooling off. And then they'll go into the adult stage. So they reach the adult stage by maybe late October. And the nice part is then you can just leave them in a cool shady place.

You don't really have to refrigerate them. Why? Because they're, if they're in California, you know, they should be adapted to our temperature regime. Yeah. So I've always kind of been interested in that, that you could, you can raise these bees and sort of have it almost a lower input in terms of not having to put them into cold storage so soon. Because of that, I have worked with the Utah bees quite a bit. And if you do it in California, you end up putting them into cold storage in often August. And if you start getting a lot of them, you know, you're running a big refrigerator

Speaker 1: in the hot. If you do it, they're used to being adopted. These Osmealocnary in Utah, would go in, and get cold. And so they would kind of like, but here they're still by, I guess, metabolically active. Right. And so they just probably run out of food.

Speaker 2: Right. They will use up their fat reserves. So you have to get them cooled down. And you got to bring Utah to California. Yeah, exactly. Exactly. For a rubber fridge. Yeah. And so I worked with a more ambitious company called Eggpollen on really trying to get a lot of bees raised and get them into almonds. And we started with Utah Bees.

And, you know, we had thousands and thousands of tubes. And so we had to have a walk-in cooler. We were running that cooler all through August the hottest part of our summer. And our electricity bills were pretty big, you know? I was thinking, well, the California bees, I don't have to run a cooler for that long. So that was my thought.

Yeah. It kind of complicates the story. And I don't want to make it too complicated for growers, you know, that, well, you know, you've got to do this one this way and this one the other way. But we can kind of ease them into that and, you know, find the growers that are willing to make an adjustment or learn something new about how to treat these bees. But so we're trying not to mix them because they, we do think they're genetically different too. Okay. Yeah.

Speaker 1: So the one thing that was really fascinated with was, and two things I want to move, we'll just talk about briefly during the break was nesting material. Right. And then, and then going into the strange interaction with the diseases and parasites that make some orchard bees get. So let's just talk about you putting up in the same spot, various kinds. That material, what do you tell us about the material to deal with?

Speaker 2: Right. So like I said, started off with, you know, two-by-fours with holes drilled in them and straws. That works, but you can't, you know, they're heavy because it's hard to drill. The holes are very close together. So if you're hiking into some spot, they're heavy and you're not getting a lot of holes per unit of stuff that you're carrying. So there are companies that specialize in making paper tubes. And so the orchard bee industry is very well aware of having these paper tubes. They generally have a one-millimeter thick, thickness to the wall, kind of a guard tube to protect from parasites laying their eggs into the straw, and a straw liner. And so you can get, you know, you can pack together a lot more of those and they're lighter weight. You can put them in some sort of container, you know, a box or a carton or tube or something like that, and hang them up in trees and they work very well.

Although you have to do certain things. They, it helps to have a dark front to it. So like if the straw is white, which they are white when you get them, that the light hits that and travels down the tube. So we spray-painted the front of the white straw with some flat black paint to kind of darken it a little bit. Yeah, they don't like a lot of light running down the nest hole.

Speaker 1: Okay, I mentioned they want to be protected in there. Yeah. It's like this place is a little too bright.

Speaker 2: Yeah, exactly. So, paint them black. You have to make sure that.

Speaker 1: Let me get this right. So you take these tubes and just bring the front of them, not the whole tube. So that at least the light that hits the front isn't going to transmit down the tube. That's right.

Speaker 2: And I learned that from Phil Torchow. He learned a lot of these things back in the 70s and 80s. And so we learned a lot from him. You have to have a plug at the end of the tube. The tube has to be plugged at the opposite end. And there are different things you can use to do that.

Quarks, which are a little bit expensive. You could put tape on it. And maybe if you do tape, it's good to sprinkle some sand in there so that the sticky part that the bee would be.

Speaker 1: Yeah, if they touch like white is second. It can get stuck to it. Another thing that works is bottle sealing wax. You can dip the ends of the tubes into molten bottle sealing wax, which is a wax of milk set at a high temperature. Widely available in Northern California.

Speaker 2: And it is. It's not really cheap wax, though. But it's great for doing it. I have a little mold that can mold lots of little plugs at once. And so I have a bunch of those little plugs for plugging in. And you can also do plaster of Paris, but they work very well. But one thing when you're doing a few hundred of those, it's fine. But when you start doing a few thousand and you have to go through all those nests to clean out the pests and parasites, or otherwise you're just going to be growing a bigger and bigger pest and parasite population every year. So going through individual tubes and opening up thousands of straws, starts to get, well, it's a tedious job. It's not bad, but it just starts taking up so much time.

Speaker 1: And especially when you consider leaf-cutting bees, where everything is done by machine, like, you know, you can go and strip out a whole board in five minutes.

Speaker 2: Right. And yeah, we have learned a lot of things from the leaf-cutting bee example. So, right, they've designed their nest to be stripable. The cocoons can come out. Either you have a machine that punches the cocoons out through the back or pieces that come apart, grooved wooden boards that come apart.

Speaker 1: And so. So, OK, so coming to Mason Bees, you also have not just very labor-intensive straws, but you know, nobody has a, well, I guess we'll hear about some kind of mechanization today. Right. So there's the other thing that you've been testing are these laminate blocks.

Speaker 2: Right. So when I was with Agpollen, we kind of came to that same inclusion that, OK, individual tubes, if we want to have thousands of them, it's going to be too much labor to go through all of that. We need a grooved wooden board like what leaf-cutting bees had. So we kind of drew up what the ideal dimensions would be for that. And went to some carpentry shops and have them made up. And at first, if you put them outside by side, brand new wood laminates, the bees will tend to prefer the paper tubes. But if you don't give them a choice, they'll use the wood laminates.

And it also helps once the laminates have been used for a season. They've been out in the field. The bees have been walking on them and nesting in them. But they get some odors on them that the bees like.

And they get more attractive as you use them. And the nice part is at the end of the season, you're opening it up and our laminates have eight tunnels per board. So each time you open it and strip out eight nests really quickly, you

Speaker 1: can expose the whole thing and rather than a tube, we're going to split it open, right? Lift one part off and then you've got all of them exposed.

Speaker 2: And just pop them out. You can pop them out. You know, and if you can just use a kind of a dull screwdriver, get pop underneath each one and kind of just go down each tunnel and scrape them out. The other thing is you can easily pull out any cocoons that aren't supposed to be there. Like you're going to find cuckoos, like the steelus and sub-hidja, which is also a kleptoparasite that gets in there and they lays their egg.

While the bee is out foraging, they'll lay their egg on the pollen and then it takes over the nest and starts eating the pollen and it will kill the developing larva that is there.

Speaker 1: Well, let's come back to this. The last thing that you were talking about was the old-fashioned reed. Right. So we use teasle up in Oregon. What's yours that's right.

Speaker 2: The folks up in Utah who were propagating these bees discovered that reeds work really well too. And this is so it's a fragmites reed. It's so it's I believe that's a non-native, you know, it's kind of an invasive weed and it grows in boggy areas. I haven't done this much myself, but those guys will go out in winter. When the pond is frozen over and cut down, they have to be they have nodes that form a backing to their hollow.

Speaker 1: No wine wax.

Speaker 2: No, you don't want to. So then they just cut them. They make a cut right behind one node and then go up as far as they can and make another cut and then you've got a nice hollow tube. And it's made out of, you know, a plant product. So it's something that the bees will take to real readily. And they're nice because a number of the bees like them, they have you're going to automatically have a variety of whole sizes. Right.

Because they come. It's you can't really write it. You can sort of pick what's close to about seven or eight millimeters. But you're going to probably throw some in that are nine, some that are six.

And there are a variety of sizes of bees and they'll kind of pick which hole they want. Gotcha. And so it works really well. And they're a little quicker to clean out than the paper tubes. I've done both.

Speaker 1: And I saw that you did a little knife to the.

Speaker 2: Yeah. All you did. I just get a pocket knife and kind of poke through the top, both sides, then give it a little twist and it'll crack lengthwise right down the whole read.

Speaker 1: They're just right at the front. Right. And then you just kind of get it started. You might cut it a little bit into the mud and then you twist it and then.

Speaker 2: Yeah, it cracks open. It's really nice. Some people will look in there, pick out any bad stuff, and tape it back together. And then I can hatch right out of that. That's a little more work. What I was doing was just opening it up, stripping out those cocoons, throwing away the two pieces and those make good kindling. Got a fireplace. you've got a really nice source of kindling. But you know, the problem there also, if you're doing it that way, it's one use nest, you know, you just throw that away. So you're always having to get more reads. Okay, yeah.

Speaker 1: Okay, so those are the three things. Let's take a quick break. We'll come back and talk about the critters that you're seeing in them and some of your hypotheses and trends or observations about the critters and the kind of tube that you use. Okay. Great. All right, so we're back. So, all right, you go into these tubes and you, I guess this would be in the fall. Like you're probably all done now. We're in December now.

Speaker 2: Yeah, I'm still cleaning some. Yeah. Coming to the end.

Speaker 1: And so when you're cleaning them out, you'll find things and you've been kind of keeping track of these different kinds of systems and these different locations. Tell us a little bit about that. What are you, first of all, what do you find when you're cleaning out a mason bee tube? What are the kinds of things that are not mason bees?

Speaker 2: Right. Unfortunately, this is what happens when you go particularly to wild places where they're nesting. They, you know, this is how nature works. There are pests and predators of any organism. And so these osmium bees have their natural enemies.

Speaker 1: And let's start from biggest to smallest.

Speaker 2: Okay. Good. We're doing biggest. I would probably say that this blister beetle, is called trichrania, Stansberry's eye. It's, actually a beautiful beetle. It's bright, bright red, uh, Elytra or wing covers and then black on the rest of its body.

Speaker 1: But it freaks you out when you're doing it for the first time because you think, what is this thing?

Speaker 2: Oh, this beetle. Yep. This beetle lays its eggs on flowers and the eggs hatch into little tiny larvae, called triumgulans that are adapted to grab onto a bee's leg. Really? Yep. So they're sitting there on the flowers, these little, just waiting for a bee and then they grab on, then it gets carried back to the nest and then it starts feeding on the pollen. Kill, if the bee lays an egg there, it fills that egg and then develops into a fully formed beetle and the cycle starts over.

Speaker 1: So it eats all the pollen and it's like, cool.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So it's, yeah, it's kind of a bummer.

Speaker 1: Are they, are they, um, species-specific or do they go for any kind of bee?

Speaker 2: Well, that is a good question. I think they will go to a few different kinds of bees. They got different. I think they're, yeah, I think it's fairly narrow, but so, okay, like, obviously, the lignary is not the only one they go to.

We've got blister beetles. Yeah. So you got that one. That one's really easy to spot. It just stands out.

It's the one with the red on the red light. And it's in a, usually in a pupil skin, kind of a very papery yellow skin and that comes apart really easily in the beetle.

Speaker 1: Just pops out. So we've got to pick those out and, well, I often just dig a hole somewhere and bury them because I don't want a lot of them wearing that. So, forgoing, uh, biggest to smallest, I think next up would be the subpigia wasp. This is a little wasp that does the same thing. It flies around looking for bee nests that are in progress. Well, the bee is away, it crawls down there and lays its egg. And the same thing, that, that little larva eats the pollen and the larva, and you've got this little subpigia wasp cocoon. Now these stages that when you're cleaning, it is an adult in its pupil skin. So it's in a cocoon basically, just like the osmia bee would be. You can cut those open and, and I'll do that to verify sometimes like some, these can look a little bit like an osmia cocoon, but they're a little harder and that's another test I do.

Like I'll say, well, that one looks a little bit like a subpigia. I'll pick it up and I press it with my fingers. They're harder than an osmia. Yeah, osmia is a little, it's a little crinkly.

Speaker 2: It's like a, exactly. Yeah, it's a crinkly, it's softer. Yeah. This one's hard. And so I feel that, well, that's a subpigia. You throw those away. Next is a steelus Montana, I believe it's a species name. This is a cuckoo bee. So it's a bee, but, it's given up on collecting pollen. It just looks for another bee and takes over its nest. So it waits for the bee to be gone.

Speaker 1: How do you tell them, because they look when I saw them in person, I said, oh, these are just little males or something. Yeah, they do. They look just like an osmia.

Speaker 2: They do. Yeah. Right. You can mistake it for, I've seen them hovering around the nest and it looks like, oh, that's, that's a little bee, it's smaller. Yeah. Oh, is that a little one? Nope.

It's, it's one of our steelus ones. So yeah, they wait for the bee to be gone, and lay their egg, the same thing happens with subpigia. Their cocoons are fairly distinctive. They're smaller. They're also hard. So you feel them with your fingers hard and they, the frass or the poop is in long, curly strands where, you know, in the, in the osmia, it's a little teeny brown pellet.

These are long curly strands and they're a little bit, I don't know, golden colored. So that stands out. It also, the cocoon has a nipple on it on the head and that, uh, this steelus has a very pronounced nipple.

Okay. And so you can see that. It's really plump.

It has a pronounced nipple. Yeah. All right. And so, that's pretty distinct. Although when you're going through lots of them, you can miss some of those too. Yeah.

I always try to double check through my cocoons and sometimes I'll spot one that I missed. Okay. What's next? So those, those are kind of the big ones. We then get into things that are diseased and you'll find dead larvae. Sometimes it's a hard white or gray or pink, even larvae that just died for some reason.

Might have been a bacterial disease or something. Pick those out. The one that we really kind of don't like and worry about is Chockroot. This is a fungal parasite. And when you find those, it's a very black-looking larva. And if you touch it, it will kind of break apart really easily. And it's full of black powder. And that powder is all of its spores.

There are probably billions of spores and each one of those things. So you know, you have to when you're, when you're going through your nest, you have to be careful not to be too rough and break, break those up. You want to pick those out carefully. I keep a bucket of soapy water. I have tweezers. If I see one, pick it up carefully, pop it in the soapy water and it'll kind of sink to the bottom and the spores aren't kind of going everywhere. Sometimes you break one, you make a little mess, you kind of carefully clean that up as best you can.

And keep moving on. So you try to not spread your spores around. But you know, they're here and you just, you just need to try to keep them clean. That's one of the most important reasons for going through your nest is to get those out of there.

Speaker 1: Oh, the last thing that you mentioned is sometimes you have what is called the pollen ball. Yeah. Where there's, you just see the pollen still there that sealed up.

Speaker 2: Exactly. So those are going to be pretty common. And we don't always have a reason for why that happened. It might have been that the egg died for, some reason. It just didn't make it or the egg hatched and the very young larva died and shriveled up. Or maybe the bee got distracted and didn't need to lay an egg, you know.

Speaker 1: Right. The beginning of those things. It made the ball and then got eaten by birds.

Speaker 2: Right. Exactly. Yeah. So a lot of, you just find these, we just call them pollen balls. And so you clean those. I chose, they're not going to hurt anything, but kind of pick those out of there too. Okay. Yeah.

Speaker 1: And now we've moved from a coffee shop into an extension center garden. Right.

Speaker 2: It's beautiful here. It's a chilly morning, but the birds are off. It's nice. Okay.

Speaker 1: So just to pick up on this. And we have a rooster. Yeah. We're waiting for him. Okay. And so we picked it up last we were talking about these different pests all the way from that blister beetle to the chalkbrood with the soapy water. And so what did you find with these different nesting materials? Did it make any difference with any of these things?

Speaker 2: It does. And, you know, we've looked at this many times and a lot of people have looked at it. And sometimes you'll see that all the bees preferred paper tubes this year and you do it the same way next year.

And this time they preferred the wood laminates. And so we, I've had a lot of conversations with other folks doing this. And it's like, why don't, why can't they make up their mind? You know, so I do like to try to keep track of things like how many cells were made in per nest, how many females were in each nest, how many pollen balls, how many of each of those pests. So I like to keep, you know, take a sample. And when I'm going through my sample nests, I'll write, I'll have a notebook and I'll record what was in each cell starting from the back.

And I have code. So it's either F for female, M for male, T for trichrania, C for chalkbrood, and so on. And I just write down in sequence what they were. And I can look and see, you know, what was in each location.

And then I summarize it. So, okay, there were three males, four females, one chalkbrood, you know, and then, then I can enter all that data in and get, get my averages and my percentages. And so it's, it's a good thing to do for anybody kind of track what, what the quality of their bees each year. So what I found here, you know, I started kind of doing detailed records.

And I really have been making an effort to raise more California bees just starting recently, just in 2017. I kind of got a fresh start restarting over. So I wanted to keep track of things. In 2017, I had mostly paper tubes. In 2018, I added quite a lot more wood laminates. I found that in the places where I had both, the wood laminates and paper tubes filled equally, they did pretty well on both of them.

Speaker 3: The wood laminate, which I always think like the tube is like rounder or it's kind of, but they, they would, they were okay with the wood laminates. They are.

Speaker 2: The bee does spend a little more time mudding over the crack because it's not a perfectly round hole. It's got a little crack running down it. And so sometimes you'll see a little strip of mud running down the hole length of the crack. You want to have as little of that as possible because they're, they're spending more time doing that than, and you want them out pollinating instead of doing a lot of masonry in there. But I still, I still think it's a good trade-off because it's just such a more manageable nest. So that's great.

Speaker 3: It's a more manageable nest and they are just as productive.

Speaker 1: Yep. So what about the little critters inside?

Speaker 2: So yeah, little critters. So in 2018, when I did my comparison, I saw less pollen balls and fewer chalk broods. So that's, that was great in the laminate, in the laminates, but I did find more trichrania or steel. So it was sort of like, well, but for me, that, that's a good trade-off. I'll take that. I, I, because chalkbrood is my worst fear. And so if, if chalk brood was less, I'll take that. And the differences weren't so tremendous on the other parasites and predators that didn't, make it a, you know, a deal breaker on the use of the laminates.

Speaker 1: So why do you think the laminate had less chalk brood?

Speaker 2: That's, that's a good question. I don't really know. Yeah. I wish I had an answer to that. That'd be an interesting thing to study. What is, you know, yeah, what are the, the parameters that, for chalkbrood to take effect, you know, and that, that had, those things have been studied somewhat in the lab. There was a, there have, there has been research on topology biology and, but there probably needs to be a little bit more.

Speaker 1: Okay, great. Well, let's take one more break. I got a couple of questions. I asked all my guests and we'll come right back. Okay. And we're back. That was great. And it's quick. I asked all my guests, is there a book that you would recommend to people that, you know if they're interested in Mason B's and,

Speaker 2: yeah, and definitely, and one that maybe others have recommended, but Jordy Bosch and Bill Kemp's book that they put out in 2001 is called How To Manage the Blue Orchid Bee. It's, I often thought of it as my Bible as I went through learning about these things. It's, they just really do a nice job of summarizing, you know, the life cycle, what flowers they will visit, how many flowers they visit, the temperature regimes that work best during summer and winter, the beautiful pictures of all those pests and parasites.

So it's just a great book and you can find it as a PDF on the internet. I know, it's great. It is. It's a really, it's a really good place to start. Okay. So yes, that's one I definitely recommend.

Speaker 1: The other question we ask our guests is if there's a tool, when they're out doing the kind of work that they do, this is like Steve Peterson tool that you're known for is like, or even not, maybe not that, that, that esteem, but very funny.

Speaker 2: You know, that's a good question. One thing that I use when I'm doing nests out in wild habitats is I have an app on my phone called Gaia. It's, it's basically a GPS app that you can record and put a little pin in where you marked, where, marked where you left your nest because when you come back a few months later, it's a little hard to remember which tree was I on. I think I was over here. So this helps me to find them again.

Speaker 1: So it guides you too. So you're like, are you going to start my walk? I've got to go 32 kilometers that way. Right.

Speaker 2: And it's great for hiking because it'll record how long your hike was, how the elevation changes, all that kind of stuff. It's really designed for hikers, but also you can mark things. And so marks where I mark where every nest was put. And that way I don't lose too many of them. Okay. Everyone's small, they disappear anyway. I've had rats chew them up and they just find some shredded pieces of a nest.

Speaker 1: Oh, I was talking with Diana Cox-Foster yesterday. She went up to Beaver Lodge, Alberta, where the leaf-cutting nests have to be protected from bears.

Speaker 2: Yep. Animals will try to get in there. They smell larvae and pollen and so that's protein to them. So that is actually another reason that I like laminates. I had one spot in particular in 2017 where I came back and the paper tubes had been really chewed up. It's a wood rat. I found their big nest mounds and realized, okay, I'm being eaten up by rats. So I thought I'd need to have a wood laminate out at that particular location. And sure enough, that really, the rats had a hard time breaking into those.

Speaker 1: Oh, I had a listener question the other day. Somebody had, you know, Woodpecker is kind of like cleaning out the fronts. Did you get any tips for that? Woodpecker.

Speaker 2: You know, you can wrap chicken wire around it and that will... Okay.

Speaker 1: But bees will pass through the chicken wire. They are cool to go through there. Okay. The last question I have is, Osmea Ligonaria, your favorite pollinator.

Speaker 2: Well, I'd have to say, yeah, it's definitely one of the... I like it a lot, you know, of course, bees are great. One I would add to that, maybe a co-favorite is Osmea ribofluoris.

And this is... It's a Western Osmea species and it specializes in Manzanita, which we have lots of in the foothills of California. And so you can find them at... Manzanita blooms very early and start seeing it, well, in some places even in December. Wow.

Yeah. In my region, it's more like February, maybe late January, and it's starting to bloom and Osmea ribofluoris gets going. At my home last year, I saw a nesting going on on February 4th. So pretty early.

Speaker 1: Canadian listeners over your ears.

Speaker 2: That's right. Sorry guys. Yeah, we have it pretty good here in California. What does this bee look like? So it looks a lot like Ligonaria, but it's a brighter green. And so it's real pretty. I think it's just a little prettier than Osmea Ligonaria because it's a bright metallic green.

Speaker 1: I got to work with the Glamis. Well, that's a funky-looking Shamrock bee.

Speaker 2: Yeah, that's another pretty one. So yeah, I'm trying to also raise Osmea ribofluoris. I have a much smaller population of those, but I have some so I'm excited about trying to raise those. And those would... Should make a really good blueberry pollinator. Fantastic.

Speaker 1: Yeah. Well, thanks so much for taking the time with us. And I guess we're about to start the second day of the Orchard E-Association's 9th. And next year is going to be the 10th annual meeting. That's right. So hope to see all our listeners come on down to our next meeting.

Speaker 2: I hope so. Yeah, everybody's welcome. And it's a great meeting and we need a lot of interested people and interesting talks. So people can come out. Thanks a lot, Steve. All right, thank you.

Speaker 1: Thanks so much for listening. Show notes with information discussed in each episode can be found at pollinationpodcast.oregonstate.edu. We'd also love to hear from you and there are several ways to connect. For one, you can visit our website to post an episode-specific comment, suggest a future guest or topic, or ask a question that can be featured in a future episode. You can also email us at [email protected]. Finally, you can tweet questions or comments or join our Facebook or Instagram communities. Just look us up at OSU Pollinator Health. If you like the show, consider letting iTunes know by leaving us a review or rating.

It makes us more visible, which helps others discover pollination. See you next week.

Steve Peterson has been working with cavity nesting bees for a long time. How long is a bit of a mystery, as Steve is going full bore placing blue orchard bees out in California almond orchards at the time of writing (and catching up with Steve at this juncture would be very, very hard). Suffice it to say that soft-spoken Dr. Peterson would never say this out loud, but he knows A LOT about managing solitary bees. His company, Foothill Bee Ranch, helps people figure out how to make solitary bee systems work in crops like almonds, cherries, plums, strawberries, alfalfa seed, carrot seed, onion seed and lettuce seed.

Listen in to learn Steve’s experience in making and maintaining mason bee nesting blocks, and why he advocates using a wood laminate in its construction.

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“I’ve always been interested in that you can raise these bees and sort of have a lower input in terms of having to put them into cold storage so soon.” – Steve Peterson

Show Notes:

  • Why the Orchard Bee Association’s annual meeting is the best kept secret in the bee world
  • What Steve has learned from his nesting projects
  • What makes California and Utah bees different and why
  • The materials Steve uses for nesting
  • How to manage your pest and parasite population in building nests
  • The innovation that Steve and Agpollen had in mass-produced nesting materials
  • The good and bad of using reed for your nesting tubes
  • What Steve finds in his mason bee tubes that are not mason bees
  • What different parasites can infiltrate the mason bee nesting tubes
  • Why Steve documents a lot of data in his nests and what he uses it for
  • The tradeoffs of the wood laminate versus traditional wood nesting boards

“I do like to try and keep track of things like how many cells were made per nest, how many females were in each nest, how many pollen balls, how many of each of those pests.” – Steve Peterson

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