Having the flowers of crops pollinated by bees is necessary to obtain a good tomato harvest. In order to achieve fruit set, the pollen has to be released from the stamens and transferred to the female parts. Until recently, this was done using an eclectic or battery operated pollinator. This type of crop pollination was a painstaking and delicate task.
In 1998 it was discovered that bumblebees could do this work much better and also more efficiently. Their sense of smell guides them to flower when it is ready to be pollinated. The bumblebees accomplish this task seven days a week throughout the entire season. The bumblebee lives in colonies but acts more or less individually , unlike the honeybee. Bumblebees can also be used for pollination of a wide range of crops including tomatoes, peppers, blueberries, strawberries and other small fruits and orchard crops. Bumblebees visit tomato flowers to gather pollen. Pollen is their protein source. The bumblebee only visits flowers when the pollen is mature and in a condition to be released. They do not work flowers that are immature or flowers that have pollen that is too wet and sticky to do high humidity.
Bumblebees are generally not aggressive and if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone. When you are working with the plants, you do need to be aware that they are in the green house, however. If you surprise one when you are clipping or suckering , both of you may jump. As long as you watch out for them and let them go about their business, there should be no problem. Each hive consists of 50 to 100 bumblebees. Because they are larger than honey bees, they can carry more pollen in one trip. They are also more efficient pollinators than honeybees. Because of the life cycle of the bumblebee and the mature nature of the social structure of the hive, the effectiveness of the hive for pollinating drops off after two or three months. Reinforcement hives or replacement hives need to be brought in for bee pollinated crops once hive decline has been detected.
Bumblebees are sensitive to many insecticides and therefore they work quite well with greenhouses that employ the use of beneficial insects. The cost of using bumblebees for pollination is more than offset by the better job they do. Actually, the labor to manually pollinate probably costs more than the bumblebee hive. In addition to the labor savings, when using bumblebees growers report more complete pollination and fruit, larger fruit, and better quality fruit. There are two sizes of hives currently available: The Start Up hive and the Excel hive. The Start Up arrives with between 100-125 workers and has been developed for a greenhouse growing crops with a high number of blooms. This hive is generally not expected to last as long as the Excel hive. The Excel hive arrives with 75-100 workers and has been developed to last longer than the Start Up hive and pollinate crops with only a few blooms per plant. Hives must be ordered by Monday or Wednesday, 12 noon eastern time. They should arrive in the same week on Wednesday or Friday respectively.
They should be ordered once flowers on the first cluster are opening on most of the plants in the greenhouse. Contact us to learn about our bee supplies for sale and how to implement these systems for your own bee pollinated crops.