Florida Extension Beekeeping Newsletter
Apis--Apicultural Information and Issues (ISSN 0889-3764)
Volume 13, Number 3, March 1995
Copyright (c) 1995 M.T. Sanford "All Rights Reserved"
FOCUS ON POLLINATION
In November 1993, I wrote that commercial pollination might
become a growth industry as more beekeepers abandoned the craft due
to declining profit margins and Varroa mites killing off much of
the wild honey bee population. Corroboration for this was provided
in the January 1994 APIS, which discussed citrus growers' concerns
about the pollination of certain specialty varieties. The trend
seems to be continuing as more and more beekeepers are considering
providing this service.
Uniform advice taken from panels at meetings I have attended
is that a quality pollination service takes commitment. The
beekeeper must always be ready to get bees in and move them out of
fields with very short notice, and some kind of a backup plan
should be in place in the very real case that things go wrong. One
must also develop a long-term personal relationship based on trust
with the customer. A key to this is communication. Successful
pollinators are regularly in contact with customers, even during
the off season. They send out reminders and make phone calls in
advance of the coming season to try to assess their capabilities
and the growers' needs. One outfit writes a newsletter that
includes information on a wide variety of topics.
For those thinking of entering the pollination game, it is of
utmost importance to solicit advice from colleagues actively doing
this for a living. I was happy to see in a recent issue of the
newsletter of the South Carolina Beekeepers Association some
valuable pollination tips by David Green, publisher of the Eastern
Pollinator Newsletter, P.O. Box 1215, Hemingway, SC 29554
"Pollination service is an alternative use of honeybees. You
need to note that word alternative, because, in order to do
pollination, you will have to manage the bees differently, and you
are going to give up some or all of your honey production.
Considering the shape of our markets for honey, and the almost
desperate need of our farmers for more bees, I consider this good
decision. An added advantage is that pollination service is more
consistent from year to year. Honey production is a much greater
"Many beekeepers who are just beginning, think they are going
to keep on making honey, and they do not figure in the added costs,
so they tend to underprice. With current markets, you cannot do an
adequate job of managing your bees and provide good service for
less than $30-35 per single story hive, per crop. This is just a
break-even proposition at that price. The profit comes from doing
more than one crop per season.
"You need to protect yourself (and your customer, as well) by
having a written contract. The two central points that need to be
addressed are that you will provide good bees, and that the grower
will not hurt them. Then you can deal with other factors such as
placement, responsibilities, problems that can arise, liabilities,
"Traditionally pollination service has quantified the bees in
terms of hives. However, the development is in the direction of
numbers of frames of brood. Most almond pollination is done this
way today. I use single story brood chambers and guarantee a
minimum of five frames of brood at placement, and try to average 6
to 6 1/2. If you use double brood chambers and guarantee, say 12
frames, you should price accordingly (and figure on a forklift to
"I also guarantee the bees to be healthy and queenright. They
are treated for varroa mites and foulbrood, and selectively bred
for resistance to tracheal mites, chalkbrood and other diseases.
I agree to open a reasonable number for grower inspection upon
delivery, if requested. The contract also indicates grower
responsibility to notify me, if there is poor flight, and I agree
to replace hives, if more than 5% are substandard, queenless, or
"It would be good to have your grower understand, even if it
is not in the contract, that it is important to have not only a
minimum standard, but a maximum, as well. An overly strong hive,
especially if it is last year's queen, is likely to swarm, and
swarmy bees do a poor job of pollination, not only after swarming,
but during the week or so ahead, while they are preparing. The
best pollination is provided by young queens (I figure 80 - 85% of
my queens are this season's) who are laying heavily. This forces
the bees to do a lot of pollen gathering. Studies show bees who are
deliberately gathering pollen are up to ten times more effective
pollinators that those who are gathering nectar.
"Very important, for your protection, is a liability limit.
Like the seed companies, you cannot guarantee a crop; that depends
on too many factors, so, like them, you should limit your liability
to the price of the contract. I hold growers liable to an agreed
amount for damages to the bees based on things under their control,
such as their employee running over the hives with a disc, or
burning off hedgerows (they have happened to me). And we split
damages that are outside of grower control, such as bear damage,
trespasser vandalism, etc. Growers are also responsible to notify
others who are at risk of stings, and they assume liability for
"Placement and timing need to be addressed. The bees need
shade, water, and some sort of stand, (trailer, pallets, old tires,
etc.). And you may need to be pulled out of a mud hole.
"There are two myths that need to be addressed. (A myth is an
idea with a germ of truth that has become universalized.) One such
myth is to wait until the bloom has started, because the bees may
get used to working other plants and neglect the crop. If there is
a lot of other bloom, and the crop you are pollinating is a poor
nectar source, such as pears or kiwi, the principle can apply. But
our melons, cukes and vine crops bloom when there is little else
available and the bees will work them just fine, even if you put
them in well ahead of bloom. Suppose it rains for a week, just as
bloom starts and the farm roads are pools of mud. Better placed six
weeks early, than one week late!
"Another myth is to distribute the bees. Resist the grower
who wants you to place one hive every hundred feet. You have a
much harder time taking care of them, and protecting them from
fire, etc. The recommendation to distribute the bees arises from
places where bees are brought in by tractor trailer and to
"distribute" means drop six pallets (24 hives) at each location.
The losses from bumping around a rough field more than offset any
gain that would be made by placing them around the field every so
many feet. Put the bees in a favorable spot with a good road to it.
They will easily cover one half mile. I have studied this a lot!
"The last serious issue to address is pesticide use (or
misuse). The grower should be taught to monitor for foraging bees
as the label requires. With the newer, non-residual pesticides
that are most often used today, the only protection the bees need
is that the grower not apply during the time bees are actually
foraging. The grower should understand that compliance with label
directions is required by law and by the contract, and is
sufficient protection for the bees. Residual pesticides such as
Penncap M, Sevin, or any of the organophosphates should never be
used during bloom. The label clearly marks them as residual.
"If you ask the growers to notify you before applications, you
will be doing a lot of chasing, and mostly to no avail. I used to
have growers call me. I'd go, prepared to "protect" the bees, and
the weather would prevent application that day. How many days do
I need to wait? Or the grower needs to spray, and I am away for a
few days and he cannot reach me. Notification does not work for
either beekeepers or growers and those who make pesticide
recommendations have done a great disservice by promoting this as
a way to circumvent compliance with label directions.
"I am aware of a case where a grower died, and his son (and
heir) locked the gates to the farm. He claimed the bees were his
and he was not going to let them go. A good contract would have
protected the beekeeper. The beekeeper resorted to a risky
"solution." He watched the farm, until he noted one of the gates
unlocked, sneaked in at night and got the bees. Nothing was said,
so he got away with it. But he could have gotten shot."
Mr. Green kindly offers to send a copy of his contract upon
receipt of a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE). I also have
a sample pollination contract (ENY 110) that I will send upon
Information for would-be pollinators is scarce. Those in bee
research have tended to spend much of their efforts on other
aspects of beekeeping, especially diseases and pathogens.
Unfortunately, the one best resource, Agriculture Handbook 496,
Insect Pollination of Cultivated Crop Plants, is out of print.
Written in 1976 by S.E. McGregor, this publication remains the
In the southeast we are fortunate that Georgia has recently
(July 1994) published, Bee Pollination of Georgia Crop Plants,
authored by K.S. Delaplane, P.A. Thomas and W.J. McLaurin. It
contains information on honey bees and other pollinating bees, and
pollination requirements for apple, blueberry, cantaloupe,
cucumber, squash, watermelon and others. It is available from the
Extension Entomology, Georgia Cooperative Extension Service,
University of Georgia request, Barrow Hall, Athens, GA 30602.
Over the years, I have also published articles on citrus and
watermelon pollination, as well as another on cucurbits. The
former two are on CD ROM available through local Cooperative
Extension Offices. The latter was published in the 1993
Proceedings of the IFAS Vine Crops Institute, Special Series Report
SSHOS-3, edited by G. Hochmuth.
A HONEY OF A BIBLIOGRAPHY
I have had a flurry of questions recently about honey.
Although happy to help answer these, I often refer people to one of
the best resources the beekeeping industry has provided, the
National Honey Board. The beekeeping industry pays assessments on
honey sales to implement this honey promotion effort. For an
evaluation of the National Honey Board's efforts, see the February
Resources about honey produced by the Board include a video
tape called Just Add Honey and a large database of recipes, many of
which are used in its promotional activities. To contact the
Board, call 1-800-553-7162 and ask about the availability of these
for local fairs, shows and other events.
The Board's Honey Technology Program also publishes a database
(available on diskette in several different computer formats)
titled "International Honey Bibliography and Abstracts." This
bibliograpy covers a huge array of topics, including the honey
industry, honey composition and characteristics, and food and non-
food industry honey use. Persons interested in this bibliography
should contact the Honey Hotline 1-800-356-5941, Monday-Friday,
8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time. The hotline is also available
for practically any question concerning honey, although it
primarily was set up to answer questions from foodservice
Malcolm T. Sanford
Bldg 970, Box 110620
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611-0620
Phone (904) 392-1801, Ext. 143
BITNET Address: MTS@IFASGNV; INTERNET Address: MTS@GNV.IFAS.UFL.EDU
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Copyright (c) M.T. Sanford 1995 "All Rights Reserved"