A couple of weeks ago, hubby and I sat down and chatted about acquiring some help around the orchard and garden this year. We jotted down some of our requirements and decided if we could find help that met each and every requirement, we’d jump head first in welcoming them to our property. Our list went something like this…
- Work long hours (sunrise to sunset) – 7 days a week
- Minimal breaks
- Provide own tools
- Be highly skilled
- No music, talking, or complaining
- Work for food
After much consideration, we decided to take the leap and seek out the help we were looking for. Within days our search was over. So without further adieu, I’d like to introduce you to our new helpers…
approximately 250 Red Wiggler Worms, and…
80 Blue Orchard Bees
We are so glad to have these hard little workers under our care. As most of you know, hubby won a small colony of honey bees with a queen last Spring and there’s a good chance we will be receiving them in the next couple of weeks. Keep your fingers crossed!
Red wigglers are self-sufficient hard workers and require very little tending to. This is the first time we’ve ordered worms for our orchard, so I was unsure what to expect once the box was opened. Fortunately, the instructions provided with the worms were very simple and easy to follow.
Upon arrival, I quickly brought our new workers into the house to prevent them from baking in the sun at the front door. After scanning the instructions, I promptly poured about 1/2 cup of fresh water over the contents of the green bag (see below – obviously, the worms). The water helps quench their thirst after 3-4 days of travel and helps to “plump” them up to their normal size.
For our garden, we chose “super” red wigglers because of their size (4-5 inches long ~ 2 to 5 times bigger than regular red worms), high activity levels, and their strength, which enables them to quickly burrow tunnels through the dirt aerating the soil as they push and munch through. These tunnels allow air movement, water and other nutrients to reach the root systems of trees and other plants, promoting excellent root growth and plant vigor. And here’s the best part. No breaks necessary. These efficient power-houses eat and poo as they work, leaving behind an awesome source of nutrition for trees and plants alike. How great is that!?!
In case you’re curious, here’s how we put our worms to work…
After giving the worms some time to “soak up” their water, I filled a plastic tub with moist compost then poured the worms out in a pile on top. I’ve never seen worms move so quickly before. Within a few minutes, all of the worms disappeared into the compost. Not even a trace of worm was left exposed. A good preview of things to come 🙂
Next, I soaked some newspaper in water and gently laid it on top of the “worm” compost pile. They use this for food and shelter and it helps to keep the compost moist. Just the way they like it.
Once tucked in, I moved the “worm tub” into the shade and hubby proceeded to dig several shallow holes around the perimeter of the water basins under each fruit tree.
If you’re wondering why the soil looks a bit red in the next photo, it’s because we just watered in EDDHA iron a few days earlier. An important step this time of year.
Once the holes were ready for worm occupation, I scooped up a hand full of worms (okay, yes this is my hand with a bunch of slimy worms crawling on it – it was only a little creepy when they tried to burrow between my fingers). I then proceeded to pick out a few lucky winners for each hole.
Hovering a few inches above each hole, I gently dropped a few worms in and covered the new occupants with the newly excavated soil. In most cases, the worms had already dug quickly down into the soil before I could get them covered. Now that’s efficient!
So far, we’ve only set out our new wiggly workers with the trees in the back orchard. Over the next few days, we’ll need to place the workers in the front orchard so we can get everyone situated in their new home. In the mean time, our “wormies” are kept safe and moist in their temporary compost tub home in the garage. We tried to keep them in the house by the back door for sunlight, but our 7 month old ragdoll kitten, Jaspurr, was harassing them too much. He thought they were new toys for him and dug into the compost knocking about 7 of them out onto the floor. There were no survivors 😦
Like honey bees, Blue Orchard Bees require a bit more time and care to keep them healthy, happy, and productive. The value they bring as a contributing member to my orchard, is, well… priceless. They are a key member in the management of a fruit orchard, especially if you are looking to obtain high yields during harvest time. Sounds like my kind of worker.
In spite of the fact that we will be receiving a small colony of honey bees with a queen in the near future (can you say… honey?), we decided to make the small investment and order some of these mighty wonders in the orchard world. What makes them so special? Well, there are too many great things about them to list here, so I thought I’d list the facts that helped us to make our decision to invest our time and a small amount of cash.
Due to their reproductive biology and early flowering periods, fruit trees require either a large population of pollinators or pollinators that are highly effective at the pollination process, both would be even better. Since fruit trees have a short bloom cycle (about two to three weeks) that occur early in the season, pollinators are frequently interrupted by inclement cold weather. This also increases the risk that the flowers will no longer be viable for fertilization, reproductively speaking that is. For these reasons, it is desirable to pollinate fruit tree flowers for as many days as possible and early in the flowering period.
Blue Orchard Bees (nicknamed B.O.B.) are better adapted for flying in poor weather conditions and can forage and pollinate under overcast skies and at temps as low as 54°F when other bees are barely active. They also forage and collect pollen earlier in the morning and end later in the afternoon than other bees.
Studies conducted in North Ogden, Utah showed the unbelievable fruit yields obtained using B.O.B.s versus Honey Bees. Results: Honey Bees used exclusively over a three-year period averaged 10,333 pounds of fruit annually. When B.O.B.s were used exclusively over a three-year period within the same crop, they averaged 26,430 pounds of fruit annually. One of those years had a cold spell that killed nearly 46% of the fruit tree flowers – the B.O.B.s still out performed the honey bees!
A few differences between Honey Bees and Blue Orchard Bees
- Social, live in colonies/hive, and share in building nests and rearing young
- Females can and will sting; drones/males do not
- Carry pollen moistened with nectar on their hind legs
- Develop from egg to adult within 16 – 24 days
- Wander from pollen sources and can ignore the target crop
- Produce honey
- Remain in their hive during winter months; emerge on warm days
Blue Orchard Bees (B.O.B.)
- Solitary, build their own nest in tunnels using mud to seal the ends, and rear/provide for their own young
- Females can sting, but rarely do – only if grabbed; males do not have a sting
- Carry dry pollen in hair located under their abdomen
- Females collect large amounts of pollen and nectar for making provisions for their young thus pollinate a higher number of trees; males collect nectar for their own consumption
- Develop from egg to adult over several months – produce only one generation each year
- Show a strong preference for fruit tree flowers; not distracted from target crop
- Do not produce honey
- Requires a dormant period before emergence (bee keepers need to keep cocoons refrigerated at 39°F – 49°F until ready to set out in spring
Hope you enjoyed these brief facts.
Now, this is how we received our B.O.B.s. Nesting straws wrapped in newspaper in a small box. Each straw contains approximately 12-18 cocoons each separated by a wall of mud and provisions of pollen and nectar for each cocoon.
We also purchased a small plastic humidifier (left in the photo below). This is used to store the straws and/or cocoons in the refrigerator. It prevents them from drying out. The wood block is called a nesting block. The nesting block goes inside a small house within the orchard (hubby is building the house as we speak). The house helps to protect the block from wind, rain, etc. The female B.O.B.s will use this block to lay eggs and set up provisions for each (similar to the straws). The small package on the right is a “bee attractant” and the two small boxes contain more bees (loose cocoons ~ about 20).
Hubby and I can’t wait until our B.O.B.s are ready to be set out in the orchard to begin the pollination process. This should be happening in the next few weeks. I’ll keep you posted.
Hope you have a great day and happy valentines!