lonely bees

Mercenary" bees recruited for the flowering of our orchards.

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They do not live in hives and do not produce honey, but they are champions in crop pollination: when spring comes, a few thousand solitary bees bred by a startup in Lot-et-Garonne are sent on a mission to boost orchard yields. 
 
Tll bees do not disappear, contrary to what we hear, especially in the media! They are the honey bees or honey bees (Apis mellifica) which unfortunately are concerned. But there are nearly a thousand species present in France and of considerable ecological importance: the so-called solitary bees whose way of life has little to do with their domesticated cousin.

Like the bees that make our honey (Apis mellifera), these loners (Osmia cornuta and Osmia rufa) fertilize plants by foraging, thus carrying pollen from one flower to another, but better and faster.
"These bees, called osmies, were already used by some farmers in Europe, but we are pioneers in our ability to breed them in quantity and bring them to a plot of land at the right time, says Franck Mariambourg, co-founder and president of Osmia.
 
Created in 2014, the SME in the agropole of Estillac, near Agen, employs seven people and rents the services of its bees to arboriculturists, in the form of boxes (one male and one female) placed in adapted shelters. This year, it is working on about 600 hectares, in the Rhône-Alpes and South-West regions, but also for the first time in the cider apple orchards of Normandy.
 
As soon as they arrive, the bees reproduce. « They remain our property and we recover the cocoons from the plots in summer, at the end of flowering. These cocoons are sorted and kept in cold storage until the following spring.explains Béatrice Tournier, the administrative manager of the start-up.
The cold freezes the development of the cocoons, which reactivate with heat. By playing with the temperature, Osmia is able to program the awakening of her bees with a precision of half a day.
"Not all fruit trees bloom at the same time, so you have to be able to stagger the awakening of the osmies", she explains.
 
Osmia's technical manager for the South-West, Nicolas Denis was an arboriculturist for a long time before going bankrupt. « I've never put a bee in my orchards in my life! I thought to myself: "Why pay for something that nature offers us", he confides. A mistake according to him: "Yields can be improved from 10 to 15%. Compared to fertilizers it is really not expensive, from 250 to 350 euros per hectare. »
 
Shelters of osmian bees installed in an orchard near Agen to help pollinate trees
GEORGES GOBET / AFP

Flying bee with super powers

Because the solitary bee is much more efficient than the honey bee. To bring pollen back to the hive, honey bees They "wet the pollen into balls and stick them on their hind legs, which degrades the pollen." explains Mr. Denis.
In osmotic solitary bees, pollen is collected using stiff bristles or pollen brushes (as in the honey bee) but is not then collected in a compact pellet; this brush is either on the hind legs so that the foraging bee is indicated by its pollen-coated hind legs. They add a little nectar to make it easier for the pollen to adhere to the hairs, but overall, the pollen grains detach quite easily during successive trips and visits. This explains why solitary bees are remarkable pollinators since they easily distribute pollen from flower to flower. It is estimated that a single red osmia is equivalent to ... 120 honey bee workers for its efficiency in pollination...
 
Above all, the honey bee is fickle! With a radius of action that can exceed three kilometres, it has an unfortunate tendency to leave its assigned orchard to forage in the attractive nearby rapeseed field...
This was probably the case in this plot of cherry trees in Brax, near Agen, where Nicolas Denis came to install his boxes of osmies. In spite of the hives, the production had reached a ceiling. In the spring of 2017, the farmer turned to Osmia and its residents. Result: a harvest increased from 5 to 10 tons per hectare.
 
The osmies don't stray far from their shelter, 50 to 100 m at most, "which makes it possible to target crops," Denis says. Above all, they specialize in the pollen of rosaceae (almond, apricot, plum, apple, etc.), which they harvest to provide a winter food supply for their larvae.
They glean very quickly (up to 17 flowers per minute), and "never run over the same flower twice because they mark them"says Nicolas Denis. Last but not least, they hardly ever sting, which is lucky for Nicolas Denis, who handles them all day long: "I'm allergic to it! ».
 
Given these extraordinary capacities, the solitary osmian bees are becoming more and more sought-after axillaries in crops and apple orchards (appreciated in particular for their ability to fly even in cold weather).

Source: AFP
 

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