Geek Beekeeping: Part 6 – Managing Networks

Commercial beekeepers perform a vital role in our food supply chain. Each year they manage and move a network involving millions of honeybee colonies between farms and fields to pollinate crops to increase yields. In 2008, the worldwide value of pollination services was over US$200 billion. Honeybees are one our most effective pollinators and beekeepers have been struggling against heavy colony losses due to disease, pesticides and parasites in recent years.

Massive Mobilization Effort

Most people will never actually see what beekeepers do because the activity is mostly in farmers’ fields and orchards. Bees are relocated at night, once the field bees have returned to the hive after collecting pollen an nectar during the day. Clusters of four hives are secured to pallets so they can be loaded and unloaded easily from large transport trucks with a fork lift or other moving equipment. Trust me, an almond orchard or blueberry field is literally a beehive of activity throughout the night when it’s time to pollinate.

Timing is Critical

Pallets of honeybees are moved into apple or almond orchards or berry fields just after the first blossoms start to appear. Typically, the colonies will stay in one location for about two weeks or so. The weather is a critical factor for successful pollination and beyond the farmer or the beekeepers control. A long period of rain during the blooming season means the bees are in the hive – not in in the field pollinating the crop. Bad weather means lower crop yields, less honey production and lost income for the farmer and the beekeeper.


Pollination Management

Many Commercial beekeepers move their honeybee colonies thousands of miles every year, following the blooming seasons of various crops from coast to coast. The unusually warm spring in the Eastern US in 2012 was a concern for farmers and beekeepers. Many of the available honeybee colonies in the US were in California to pollinate the almond crop in March when the unseasonably warm weather brought orchards and fields into bloom in the eastern US. Normally there are a few weeks between these events so beekeepers can work their way across the country, pollinating different crops in different zones with the same colonies.

Adapting to Climate Change

Farmers and beekeepers will be keeping a close eye on how crops and bees react to seasonal variations relating to climate change. Honeybee colonies need pollen to build up strength in the spring. If pollen-producing plants adapt faster than bees to seasonal changes, they could get out of sync with potentially devastating results for both the honeybees and our food supply.

The 5-Part Geek’s Guide to Beekeeping series is available in two colour options for printing on light or dark backgrounds.

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image: Pollinator via wikimedia commons CC by 2.5