Florida Extension Beekeeping Newsletter
Apis--Apicultural Information and Issues (ISSN 0889-3764)
Volume 13, Number 7, July 1995
Copyright (c) 1995 M.T. Sanford "All Rights Reserved"
WIDENING THE POLLINATION PERSPECTIVE
Dr. Keith Delaplane at the recent Beekeepers Institute at
Young Harris, Georgia discussed a variety of non-Apis bees that are
potential pollinators. He urged those present to become actively
involved in helping to conserve these so-called "pollen bees" (see
April 1994 APIS). Allowing fields to fallow and fence rows to grow
up in wild plants, Dr. Delaplane said, will help conserve the
vegetation all insect pollinators, including honey bees, need for
forage. In addition, these practices will help preserve the soil
nesting sites required by many solitary bees. This message should
be spread by beekeepers, Dr. Delaplane concluded, because few
others are knowledgeable enough to do the job adequately.
For rabid honey beephiles, some of Dr. Delaplane's remarks
might have raised a few eyebrows. Historically, many are concerned
only with the welfare of Apis. Other bees have often been relegate
to the sidelines because they produce no honey. However, it is
becoming clear that concentrating on honey bees as either the only
pollinators in the environment or the most efficient is no longer
tenable (see June 1992 APIS). That said, Apis mellifera still
remains the principal manageable resource agriculturalists can use
to increase yields and crop quality.
And there is mounting evidence (see March 1993 and January
1994 APIS) that growers are finally receiving the message
beekeepers have been trying to communicate for many years. Simply
put, pollination is just as important an input as irrigation,
fertilization and pesticide application. Pollination is difficult
to measure, however, and honey bee colony performance may not
always be up to par. According to Dr. Eric Mussen, writing in his
May/June 1995 From the UC Apiaries, the latter is likely to be a
contentious topic. Growers, he says, want to rent highly populous
colonies that cannot fail to provide 100 percent pollination.
Few farmers or average citizens are aware, Dr. Mussen says,
that darkness, rain, heavy fog and winds more than 12 miles an hour
(conditions prevalent during a series of winter storms in
California) not only kept honey bees inside their hives, but also
caused pollen degradation and the spread of plant diseases. These
conditions resulted in production losses, according to Dr. Mussen,
practically ignored until California cherries became priced four
times higher than normal this shipping season. In spite of efforts
to communicate a different message, however, the simple perception
spread by The Wall Street Journal and other media sources
prevailed, according to Dr. Mussen. The honey bees, and by
extension the beekeeper, didn't get the job done.
Thus, it's up to the beekeeper, Dr. Mussen concludes, to
inform growers and others about the problems associated with
keeping honey bees and using them as pollinators. Many do not
realize how much expense is involved in managing colonies, nor what
other factors might affect pollination success, including
environmental conditions and the role of alternative pollinators.
Both Drs. Delaplane and Mussen seem to agree. The beekeeper
is in the best position to consult with growers not just about
honey bee rental, but pollination problems in general. Thus, the
day may have finally dawned for pollination to become the growth
industry many predicted (See November 1993 APIS). In order to
remain credible, however, apiculturalists must widen their
pollination perspective. Instead of simply focusing on the
management of honey bee populations, they should become experts in
all facets of the pollination process, including the role played by
POLLINATION INFORMATION RESOURCES
I listed some principal pollination resources beekeepers could
use in the March 1995 APIS. That issue concentrated on commercial
honey bee pollination and contained some pointed remarks by David
Green, publisher of the Eastern Pollinator Newsletter, P.O. Box
1215, Hemingway, SC 29554. Since then, other resources have become
One mentioned by Dr. Mussen in his newsletter (cited above) is
a videotape released by the A.I. Root Co, The Honey Bee--A Grower's
Guide. This program sells for $49.95; its catalog number is XV219.
To order, call 1-800/289-7668 Extension 3219. He quotes the
producers as saying, "What this video does for you as a pollinator,
is guarantee a grower he is getting his money's worth when hiring
A Guide to Managing Bees for Crop Pollination has just been
released by the Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists
(CAPA). Although concentrating on honey bees, this publication
also contains information on other factors affecting pollination.
The 34-page booklet contains seven chapters: Pollination,
Pollinating Agents, Primary Insect Pollinator - The Honey Bee,
Management of Bee Colonies for Pollination, Management of
Alternative Bee Pollinators, Pollination Requirements of Specific
Crops, Pesticide Hazards and Bee Pollinators.
Two sections are of particular interest. One discusses other
insect pollinators and another focuses on pollination aids.
According to the publication, although honey bees are the most
important pollinator, alternatives do exist. However, the
management of these pollinators is as varied as the insects
themselves. The technology to rear the leafcutting bee, Megachile
rotundata, is well defined, as is that for the orchard bee (Osmia),
cultivated in Japan for apple pollination.
The bumble bee (Bombus) is an important pollinator of native
plants because it has a long tongue, forages during cold
temperatures and buzz-pollinates (sonicates the anthers, causing
pollen discharge). However, the rearing practices for bumble bees
are not easily undertaken by the novice. The best advice,
according to the publication, is to provide nesting habitat and a
wide variety of food plants these insects need to complete their
In his remarks at Young Harris College, Dr. Delaplane
recounted some of what he has learned about rearing bumble bees.
Calling them, the "hamsters of the bee world," he has designed a
nest box and is trying to get these insects to complete their life
cycle under controlled conditions. Most bumble bee rearing
currently depends on capturing wild queens in early spring, letting
the colony grow and abandoning it to its natural senescence in the
fall. Because these rearing practices are time-consuming and
complex, each insect in a bumble bee nest pollinating tomatoes in
greenhouses may be worth as much as $1.25!
As a pollinating aid, the publication describes the concept of
using a pollenizer, a plant variety providing a source of
compatible pollen for cross-pollination. The use of pollen inserts
that automatically apply pollen to bees a the hive's entrance is
also explained, as are techniques that reduce competition from
other plants that may be blooming at the same time. Finally, there
is the possibility of directing or luring bees to crops.
The latter is controversial and requires a good deal more
study. According to the publication, directing bees to target
crops is difficult if the flowering plants have little or no pollen
or nectar available, or if the crops provide less reward than
nearby forage. The best attraction occurs when the target crop's
odor is incorporated into the colony's food supply. Although
spraying sugar syrup on plants may increase the number of visiting
bees, the publication concludes, this seldom results in more yield.
More research is needed to prove that pollen odors from extracts
attract bees to plants requiring pollination.
Of the substances used to lure honey bees to plants, only
those based on bee pheromones appear to hold much promise,
according to the publication. The queen produces a five-component
Queen Mandibular Pheromone (QMP) that has been synthesized and is
sold under the name FruitBoost(R) in Canada. The publication
states, "QMP is mixed with water and sprayed on crops slightly
preceding peak bloom. Research on apples, pears, cherries,
cranberries and blueberries indicate that QMP is effective in
increasing the number of honey bees foraging on these crops under
a wide range of environmental conditions, orchard management
systems and geographical locations." Unfortunately, there is no
information provided for Phero Tech, Inc., the manufacturer of
FruitBoost(R). My latest communication from this company in 1992
stated the address to be 7572 Progress Way, Delta, BC, Canada
V4G1E9, ph 604/940-9944, fax 604/940-9433.
The CAPA publication, along with the pollinator's bible,
Agriculture Handbook 496 (see April 1995 APIS), is an indispensable
tool for the pollination consultant. The handbook continues to be
available from both the Tucson Bee Laboratory, 2000 E. Allen Rd.,
Tucson, AZ 85719 and the Weslaco Bee Laboratory, 2413 E. Hwy. 13,
Weslaco, TX 78596. The CAPA booklet can be purchased from the
American Association of Professional Apiculturists (AAPA) for $5.00
each ($3.50 each in units of 10 or more) plus shipping costs. For
details on ordering, contact Dr. Marion Ellis, University of
Nebraska, Department of Entomology, P.O. Box 83583-0816, Lincoln,
NE 68583-0816, ph 402/472-8696, fax 402/472-4687.
Besides the FruitBoost(R) mentioned above, several other
pheromonal attractants have been marketed (see February 1991 APIS),
Bee Here(R) and Bee-Scent(R). The evidence for how valuable these
products are as pollination aids has been mixed. Two specific
studies I have in my possession deal with the product Bee-Scent(R),
manufactured by Scentry, Inc., P.O. Box 426, Buckeye, AZ 85326-
0090, ph 602/386-6737.
The first is by G. Elmstron and D. Maynard at the University
of Florida, 1990, "Attraction of Honey Bees to Watermelon with Bee
Attractant," Proc. Fla. State Hort. Soc. 103:130-133. These
investigators found signs of increased bee activity at one location
and that the bee attractant may have been responsible for early
fruit set in southwest Florida. However, results on fruit quality
were inconclusive. The authors concluded the use of the product
might be beneficial when bee populations are low, during periods of
cold, windy or overcast weather and/or if nearby plants were
competing for the bees' attention.
A more recent study was done in North Carolina, J. Ambrose and
co-authors, 1995, "An Evaluation of Selected Commercial Bee
Attractants in the Pollination of Cucumbers and Watermelons,"
American Bee Journal 134:267-272. The authors found no increase in
bee activity nor yield for either crop using two attractants,
BeeLine(R) and Bee-Scent(R). They do note, however, that other
investigators, including those in the first study mentioned above,
did have more positive results.
Part of the reason for mixed results in these studies, the
authors from North Carolina state, is that different kinds of
"attractants" have been used. They can be divided into three
groups: feeding stimulants [BeeLine(R)], those based on worker
pheromones [Bee-Scent(R)] and others based on queen pheromone
[FruitBoost(R)]. They conclude: "There is always the
consideration that under marginal pollination conditions (adverse
weather), that one or more of the attractants may serve as an
'insurance policy' for adequate crop pollination. However, even
under that scenario the grower should evaluate the cost of treating
a crop with the bee attractant as opposed to renting additional
colonies of honey bees."
The complexity involved in carrying out and analyzing studies
on bee attractants was subsequently brought out in a letter to the
editor of American Bee Journal, published in the July 1995 issue.
Dr. T. Ferrari takes the North Carolina researchers to task,
stating in no uncertain terms that their recommendation not to use
bee attractants was unwarranted. He said that because no
"pollination problem" had been identified, there was little
possibility to evaluate improved foraging by bees on the crops in
question. In addition, he suggested that "no matter how tedious,"
the amount of pheromone in tests before and after treatment should
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"