How wild bees could improve blueberry production on Quebec farms

The Côte-Nord region, where more than 2.5 million kilograms of blueberries are harvested each year, has huge uncultivated areas that could be developed for the blueberry industry.

Researchers hope to make bee population more resistant, increase pollination

Osmia bees are well suited to blueberry fields, but they tend to nest alone. (Submitted by Ève-Catherine Desjardins)

Quebec's Côte-Nord region has huge potential to expand on the 2.5 million kilograms of blueberries produced there every year if it could get more from its bees.

The bees, relied on to pollinate the region's blueberry crops, wake up too late in the spring and don't reach peak activity when the blueberries are flowering.

One solution producers have turned to is bringing hives in from Lac-Saint-Jean and Ontario for the length of the blueberry season.

But there aren't enough colonies available, and that slows the industry's expansion.

The area also lacks wild flower fields to maintain large populations of bees before and after blueberry season.

To overcome these problem and increase pollination, researchers are trying to integrate more resistant species of bees into the region.

One of the sites chosen by the researcher Ève-Catherine Desjardins is located near Baie-Comeau, in a field well-stocked with wild flowers. (Radio-Canada)

Several species of wild bees are very effective in pollinating blueberry flowers, such as the Osmia Tersula bee.

Being smaller than the domestic honeybee, Osmia bees can practically enter the blueberry blossom.

They also spend the winter in adult form, which means they are active very early in the spring. 

"It is necessary to work with a diversity of pollinating insects so that, under different conditions, there is always a certain activity," says Ève-Catherine Desjardins from the Centre for Experimentation and Development in the Boreal Forest in Baie-Comeau.

The Côte-Nord lacks wild plants that bloom before or after the blueberry, like this fireweed. (Radio-Canada)

The challenge with Osmia bees is that they nest separately and don't form colonies.

In order to encourage pollination, researchers have started placing nesting boxes directly in the blueberry fields.

The centre also wants to test ways of helping the bees adapt to the northern climate, by covering hives with insulation or by supplementing their diet.

They hope that by increasing the overall population, the industry as a whole will be able to expand.

A nesting box for Osmia bees that researchers hope will encourage them to populate specific areas like blueberry fields. (Radio-Canada)

With files from Radio-Canada's Aubert Tremblay