Blueberrytalk's Weblog

Everything connected to growing blueberries

Improving Bluecrop production

Posted by blueberrytalk on November 3, 2016

For many years Bluecrop held the distinction of being the variety of choice for blueberry growers. Then came Duke! Duke was as easy to pollinate as Bluecrop was difficult to pollinate. Bluecrop invariably left 20-30% of the fruit as tiny undeveloped green berries. Duke berries tend to ripen in fewer pickings making it much easier for pickers to achieve  higher production. This says nothing about the overall production of the field.

We are attempting to meet all of the challenges posed by Dukes by using Mason bees to pollinate in the Bluecrop. Mason bees are trapped by their unwillingness to fly long distances so they can be forced to pollinate Bluecrop when they are placed next to Bluecrop. The first question is :”How many Mason bee cocoons does it take to pollinate an acre of Bluecrop?” We are close to an answer to this and probably after the 2017 season we will have a pretty good idea. Last year we used about 1500 cocoons per acre. Overall production is harder to pin down but we are collecting data in this area. We will have something to say about picker satisfaction that comes from compressed ripening later in this blog entry.

Let’s look at the challenge posed by Duke. This is what the second picking looks like to a picker!


The greater the density and size of berries the greater the productivity in picking.

Thanh is from Vietnam. He and his wife Lan have picked at our farm for about 20 years. Thanh knows the difference between a bush  he would like to pick from a bush he wouldn’t like to pick. His English is excellent and he doesn’t hesitate to share his thoughts. He has been with us through all the old “hard to pick” varieties that we no longer grow.

In 2015 we hand picked the Bluecrop in 3 pickings  In 2016 we did one hand pick and then finished the field with a machine pick. A couple of times before we machine harvested Thanh expressed his disappointment that he wouldn’t get a chance to pick the 2nd pick of Bluecrop. One anecdote can’t convince but we would like to pursue the idea  that Bluecrop , pollinated by Mason bees, can lead to a crop that produces higher picker satisfaction by the way the berries are presented on the bush.



Posted in Bluecrop, Duke blueberry, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Honeybees favor blackberry blossoms

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 25, 2016

Honeybees forage in the blueberries until the blackberry blossoms open. In the picture below the honey on the left is blueberry blossom honey. It crystalizes very quickly into crystals that are so fine that it is like creamed honey. We like to take it off as soon as it is produced so that it doesn’t blend with the next honey which is blackberry honey.


The first blackberry blossoms appear well before the blueberry blossoms are over. The picture below was taken May 22. Draper blueberries are in bloom at this time and the Drapers begin to experience the migration of honeybee attention from blueberry blossoms to blackberry blossoms. We see few honeybees working in a late variety like Elliott.

The first blackberry variety sets out blossoms in a compressed period of time. You can see in the picture below that the second blossoms follow right on the heels of the first. It’s all over in a couple of weeks. The bees go right to it when it appears.


This leads right into the well known Himalayan blackberry which blossoms gradually over the next couple of months. You can see the lineup of buds in the picture below.


What can a grower do to help the pollination of late varieties? As the season progresses the wild bumblebee population explodes. We rely on worker bumblebees to pollinate the Elliott blossoms. Bumblebee populations can be increased by taking care of the environment they live in. But that’s another story!

Growers can also rely on Mason bees whose lifespan extends past the late blueberry varieties.

Posted in Blackberries, foraging, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Enhancing Blueberry pollination with Mason bees

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 21, 2016

For the last two years I had set out enough nests to accommodate a 2 ½ times increase in cocoons collected. It quickly became obvious that nests would be full well before the pollination was over. The measure of pollination success is not the cocoons placed in the field but the number of cocoons collected. Each cocoon collected represents something that began with a wad of pollen that was the start of a new cocoon. Each wad of pollen represents 1500 flower visits. Blueberry pollen is very distinctive as can be seen in the picture and the pollen can be easily seen when the bees enter their nest.


I experienced a more than 2 1/2 times increase in cocoons from the number set out originally. What explains this increase? When cocoons are released in the field some will stay to use the nests that are available where they are released but some will fly away to seek opportunities elsewhere. This would be analogous to swarming in honeybees. On my farm there are so many nest locations (marked by arrows) that many bees will just relocate to another nest location on my farm.



Posted in Mason bees, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Dealing with wasps

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 19, 2016

Wasps can be distracted  from trying to enter honeybee colonies. A container of cappings is placed on the inner cover to give the honeybees a couple of days to lick off whatever honey the can find. Then the container with others is placed on the top of a colony. Wasps will be drawn to this for the last remains of honey rather than run the risk of trying to enter a hive. If you want to reduce the wasp population the picture shows how.

Posted in Uncategorized, Wasps | Leave a Comment »

Preparing cocoons for winter storage

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 18, 2016


Separate good cocoons from infestations of pollen mites and store 500 at a time in plastic trays. The double layer of plastic is to protect from rodents. Storage for the present is in a closed carport that is a couple of degrees warmer that outside temperatures.

We are getting 5.7 cocoons average from a 6 inch nest.

Posted in Mason bee cocoons, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Improving Blueberry fruit set

Posted by blueberrytalk on July 30, 2016

Honeybees are easily enticed to floral sources even miles away. Once the blackberry blossoms open it’s hard to keep the honeybees at home in your blueberry field.

Mason bees like to forage within a few hundred feet of their nests. Placing Mason bee nests close to “hard to pollinate” blueberry varieties is a way to combat poor fruit set.

The picture below  shows poor fruit set in a Draper blueberry plant. Start your own pollination with Mason bees!

2016-06-10 (1)

Draper fruit

Posted in Draper, pollination, Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Honeybees like…Himalayan blackberries

Posted by blueberrytalk on May 9, 2016

The Elliott blueberries are well past mid bloom. The Himalayan blackberries are poised to open gradually over the next couple of months.

This year, for the first time, The honeybees stayed around for the Elliott pollination. Maybe it was because the Elliott blossoms were early or maybe it was because of the exceptional nectar flow in the blueberries this year. In the past, when the honeybees went after the blackberries, we depended on hundreds of worker bumblebees. Our farm is designed to be Bumblebee friendly.

This year, we have increased our Mason bee population by releasing over 1000 Mason bee cocoons per acre to the benefit of all blueberry varieties.

Posted in Honeybees like..., Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

Honeybees like…early blackberry

Posted by blueberrytalk on May 4, 2016

The Draper blueberries are in mid bloom. The early blackberry blossoms open quickly creating a sea of white. The honeybees readily forsake the blueberry blossoms for the opportunity to forage in the blackberries. This is the time we like to have some stay at home pollinators like our Mason bees.

Posted in Honeybees like..., Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Honeybees like….Sycamore Maple

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 23, 2016

The Dukes are at peak pollination. All of the pollinators like Duke blossoms resulting in large delicious fruit. The honeybees are drawn to the Sycamore Maple for the excellent nectar.

Posted in Honeybees like..., Uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Honeybees like….Pacific Crabapple

Posted by blueberrytalk on April 17, 2016

The Mason bee is gathering pollen from Bluecrop blossoms. Once the Mason bees are locked on to the blueberry blossoms they tend to stick with the blueberries even if a crabapple is growing right next to their nest shelter. Honeybees, on the other hand, gladly forsake the blueberries for the much preferred crabapple blossoms. You can hear the buzz of the bees as you approach a crabapple tree. The honeybees are gathering pollen and nectar from the crabapple blossoms. The Pacific crabapple is a native tree so you can expect to find numerous crabapple trees in any wooded area.

Posted in Honeybees like..., Uncategorized | 1 Comment »