There always seems to be quite a lot of news about declining bee populations. Here at the farm, we aren’t experiencing anything of the sort.
For many years now, we have been working with Koppert for the pollination of our blueberries. You may have noticed these boxes in shady areas around the fencerows of the farm. These are Koppert “Quads”. Each box contains 4 bumblebee colonies with a queen and around 250 workers, that have been reared indoors ahead of time by Koppert.
These are native bumblebees – Bombus impatiens (Common Eastern Bumblebee). So why do we need to purchase them? Well, naturally, when blueberries are blooming in late May, only queen bumblebees have emerged from overwintering. Queens are foraging and preparing to raise a colony of their own, but no worker bees are present. So in nature, there are only queen bumblebees out and about when pollination is required.
Koppert has developed a system of rearing bumblebee colonies indoors, ahead of our pollination requirements. After having placed our order early in the new year, Koppert delivers the bees to our farm in mid-May – just before the blueberries begin to bloom. As soon as flowering begins, there are plenty of worker bumblebees ready to help pollinate the crop.
Bumblebees have several advantages over honeybees, when it comes to pollinating blueberries. Their biggest edges are that they are bigger and stronger, and are therefore able to work under colder, cloudier and windier conditions. Because of this, they are sort of like an insurance policy against poor weather when the crop is blooming. Each blueberry flower remains viable for only about 4-5 days. This means that each flower requires a visit from a bee during that time period, or else a blueberry will not develop. The bell shape of the flower prevents wind pollination – so bees are vital. If the weather turns too cold, windy or cloudy during this time, honeybees will stay in their hive and refuse to work. Bumblebees will not. So in poor conditions, pollination can continue.
After having used these Quads for many years, there is a noticeable increased bumblebee presence on our farm. New colonies of bumblebees, descended from the imported Quads, are continually forming in the fencerows and forest edges around the farm. Next time you’re out picking berries, have a look around and see if you can notice some bumblebees flying around. We bet you can.
So thanks to our partners at Koppert, and all of our blueberry customers, we’re doing our part to keep bee populations healthy.
Thanks for picking local food and keeping Ontario green!