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Photo: Blue orchard bee, Osmia lignaria. Link to photo information
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Blue Orchard Bees Help Pollinate Cherries

By Marcia Wood
February 20, 2003

Cherry orchards pollinated by blue orchard bees boast impressive harvests of this popular summer fruit. That’s according to a research experiment, now in its sixth year in a commercial cherry orchard in northern Utah.

Blue orchard bees get their name from their metallic, blue-black color. Also known as the orchard mason bee or, to scientists, as Osmia lignaria, the bee could augment the efforts of this country's most widely used pollinator, the domesticated honey bee. In recent years, many colonies of the honey bee, Apis mellifera, have been hard hit by mites, beetles and competition from the aggressive Africanized honey bee.

Agricultural Research Service entomologist William P. Kemp of the agency's Bee Biology and Systematics Research Laboratory, Logan, Utah, and colleague Jordi Bosch of Utah State University, also in Logan, are conducting the pollination study. They are comparing cherry yields from before, then after, they brought blue orchard bees to work in the orchard.

In some years, production was twice as high when blue orchard bees were used in place of honey bees, Bosch reported. The orchard pollinated by the blue orchard bees produced harvestable yields even in years when bad weather robbed most other cherry growers in the region of their harvest.

Kemp and Bosch are authors of “How to Manage the Blue Orchard Bee,” a soft-cover handbook published in 2001. This comprehensive guide is packed with tips for commercial and hobbyist beekeepers.

The orchard study and the handbook are briefly described in a recent issue of the ARS monthly magazine, Agricultural Research.

ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.