This year’s blueberries are once again a bust, with flowers dropping and no actual berries forming as yet. That said, the currents are going crazy, and provided the birds stay away (as they did last year, fortunately) we’ll have 10X last year’s crop.
Our mason bees have mostly emerged and unfortunately our rooftop is almost devoid of flowers. With the exception of a large rosemary plant, and some heather there is very little to keep the bees around right now. At ground level the cherry blossoms are out, so hopefully that vertical distance isn’t too much to prevent them from returning over the next little while.
On the upside, our berry bushes are showing leaves and FAR more flower buds than we saw over the past two years. Red currants, black currants, gooseberries and blueberries have started flowering over the past week and while the flowers aren’t the bright pinks and reds of some other plants, it looks like they’ll be available in abundance. If we’re lucky there are still enough mason bees around to pollinate them as we have yet to see any volume of honey bees or bumblebees.
Here’s hoping that the combination of warmer weather and more abundant berry blossoms will do the trick.
Just like that we’re (hopefully) through the worst of winter here in the Pacific Northwest. We’re into March in a month, which means it’s time to ready your bee homes, and the residents they’ll house.
While there aren’t any blooms out at this point, other than a handful of crocus’ providing a splash of colour, the various berry bushes have produced buds, with the gooseberries showing the first hint of leaves. It won’t be long now, and previous years have taught me that without the mason bees, we’ll be lucky to get fruit from the gooseberries, blueberries and currants.
My chief learnings from the last year would be the following, along with mitigation ideas for this time around.
Angle the bee houses slightly forward. Last year, despite facing the tube openings eastward there were a few days with heavy wind and rain that saw moisture enter the bee home. This year I’ll be tethering the homes more securely to their anchors to prevent even the slightest shifting in wind, and I’ll be angling them slightly forward so that any liquid that enters has a natural path out.
Reconsider wooden bee houses. My wooden houses are in rough shape after only two seasons. This year I’m thinking of trying to repurpose something like plastic milk jugs or 2L soda bottles to form the shell of the bee home. Benefits I’m hoping for are that it allows reuse of an existing material, is impermeable to water, can be cut to the necessary dimensions including an overhang to limit water ingress, and won’t break down under the stresses of Vancouver weather. The test will be securing the bee tubes side the slick plastic shell.
Finally, if you’re looking for a source of good quality, well-priced mason bee tubes here are the ones I’m testing this year. I’ll be comparing them to the drilled bamboo tubes I used last year.
What’s the problem with pollinators? There aren’t enough of them… and they sleep in.
My second year, I added berry bushes to the roof, and added to the count this past season. What I found is that the berries bud and flower much sooner than vegetables in this climate, and apparently much sooner than bumblebees and honeybees surface to help with pollination. As a result, I’ve had very limited fruit production, though this past year I was able to get some improvement by manually making the effort.
I don’t know if the issue is that local pollinators aren’t emerging at the same time, or whether the location, and relatively limited flower options means they don’t visit until blooms are more abundant. Regardless, it’s a problem that I’m trying to deal with on a couple levels in 2019.
First, I scattered wildflower seeds in some beds reserved for non-edibles in hopes that they will emerge and flower to provide additional options for any pollinators that do emerge and visit early in the year.
Second, I’ve purchased a number of solitary bee homes and will be seeding them with mason bees in March, in hopes that the early-emerging mason bees will bridge the time between early flower emergence and the arrival of the pollinators that service the broader pool of fruit and vegetable plants.
If anyone has other ideas I’m all ears, as I’d like nothing more than to have bushes loaded with berries through the spring/summer of 2019.