Monday, March 5, 2012

Got to love those BUMBLEBEES!

Just like any other plant, greenhouse tomato plants require pollination to set fruit.   In the wild, this is done by bees, wasps, wind and other natural sources.   Some growers manually, or with a small “buzz” device, shake or vibrate the flowers or blossoms.   Rather than use manual devices, we use BUMBLEBEES from commercially produced beeshives that are designed exclusively for crop pollination.  We've been getting our bees from Koppert for 17 of the 18 years that we've been growing.  If you've ever pollinated tomato blossoms on 400 plants, for an entire season, with an electric toothbrush,  you'll find out why bees cost so much.  It's work!  The bees are worth every penny!  With the number of plants we have now, there's NO WAY we could do it manually.   Since a bumblebee only lives about 6 to 8 weeks, we continue to replace the hives throughout our growing season.

Most tomato growers are well aware of the efficiency of bumblebees for pollination.  Bumblebees are capable of ‘buzz pollination’.  The bumblebee places its upper body close to the pollen bearing structure of a flower, and vibrates its flight muscles. This vibration enables efficient pollination of tomatoes.  (More on the Buzz About Bees)

We receive our first hive of  bumblebees shortly after the first flowers appear.   Our greenhouse conditions seem to be perfect for supporting the hives.  In the wild, bumblebees don't work as well in the extreme high heat or in temperatures below 41 degrees.   But, in the winter months, we maintain an average temperature (trade secret) that is well within the comfort zone of our bumblebees.  With the bumblebees, the high and low temps may slow them down, but they do not stop working until day's end.

Quite often we are asked about our bees and as to why we don't use honeybees?  Have you ever been around a honeybee that didn't act a little pissed off angry?  Imagine yourself trying to work in an environment where a gang of bees were constantly daring you to get near the flowers they are about to have relations with?  All you'll want to do is get the heck out of there! 

Tim wanted to add this about honeybees......"Why wouldn't a worker bee be mad?  All they do is work themselves to death to support a queen who just sits around eating and laying eggs?  (By the way, Tim is not speaking from personal experience.  His wife is no queen bee!)  Let's stay on topic here.
The bumblebees are polite and go about their duties quietly and without an ounce of agression. They go about visiting the flowers one by one, then to the next plant, and so on. I call their method a "bee line". I'm sure that the term refers to something else, but that's my take on the bumblebee's work ethic.

Oh yes, they will sting you!   But, in the 17 seasons of  using bees, we've had less than 17 reported stings!   Yes, that's right, less than one a year.  Bumblebees are solitary bees are usually very docile, and stinging is rare.   Bees are not menaces, but they are is an extremely vital part of growing our food.    

This past week went pretty well. The daylight hours are increasing so the pounds per plant seem to be increasing as well. As usual we picked, packed, and delivered.   Jonathan and Daniel were sent to another location to continue the preparations for a later planting.  More pictures later!  We did the weekly plant maintenance in both houses; however, the tasks were not completed until today. (Monday)  It's already time to do it all over again for this week.

Hoping everyone has a sunny week!