If You Build It – They Will Come….. Attracting pollinators and breeding a better berry

From the very first day we walked the land, I have been looking for bees. And they were scarce. I would occasionally see a bumble bee and I did see a honey bee or two – but not very many. Any flowers at the property were usually devoid of life.

Maybe it was because the land was farmed for so long or because there wasn’t very many flowers? Then we seeded the prairie and I was hopeful. I don’t know how I expected the bees to find the prairie but I sensed that they would – or I hoped that they would. The first plants to come up from our seeds last season were the partridge peas. There weren’t very many, but I noticed bumblebees on most of the flowers.

Then the prairie started to come alive this summer – so many spotted bee balm and black eyed susans. I didn’t notice any bees on the prairie plants until the milkweeds started to bloom – and then it was a bee fiesta! So many bumblebees and a few honey bees. Where are the honey bees coming from?

Having been to the area beekeeping meetings, I know there are at least two beekeepers in our rural town – both at least 4-8 miles from me. Could their bees be scouting our property? Were there wild bees in the area? Are there other beekeepers I haven’t met? So many questions!If the bees are finding the prairie – does that mean I will be able to catch a swarm? Does it mean the bees will stay and we will have an impact on the pollinator population? Will we find rare endangered bees?

In other news – we had a major development in our plant breeding work.There are so many great berries in the world – and most people haven’t tried any of them! We want to change that – not only for health benefits but for food security.

Perhaps it is foolish to expect success so quickly and sometimes easy come means easy go – but after years of crossing my wild and cultivated black raspberries, I finally had a plant that was producing berries double the size of the wilds and maybe 50% larger than the cultivated. I was pretty jazzed.

But in my attempts to move the plant to a better area and propagate it – by stem cutting and tip layering  – I am afraid I may have lost it all. My cuttings are not rooting and the parent plant seems to be fading. Why did I move it….. Because of the small size of our test plot and lack of easy access to the plant, I felt I had to.

It transplanted well and was doing great for a long time. Then it started to fade. Maybe the new soil wasn’t right? Maybe it got a disease? Maybe something else is happening?  I am crossing fingers that it springs back to life in the spring and that my cuttings finally take root. It was a really fantastic berry – large, sweet, flavorful. But maybe not disease resistant. Well – we press on my friends.

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