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Come pollination season, orchardists are at the mercy of factors they can’t control — weather, cold and varroa mites to name a few.

However, Eric Olson of Olson’s Honey in Yakima, Washington, suggests several things growers can control to make sure their bees have the best chance to set a lot of fruit. He shared them in December at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Yakima.

“There really is no mystery to pollination,” said Olson, one of the largest commercial beekeepers in the nation.

The healthier the hive, the more work the bees will do for you.

Tips:

Placing honeybee hives on top of fruit bins helps keep the hive from getting damp when sprinklers are running in orchard rows. <b>(TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)</b>

Placing honeybee hives on top of fruit bins helps keep the hive from getting damp when sprinklers are running in orchard rows. (TJ Mullinax/Good Fruit Grower)

—Use 12-paneled hives. The larger, denser hives will foster up to 36,000 bees, and half of the bees will be devoted to forage. A six-paneled hive will support maybe 6,000 bees and spare only 20 percent of them for forage; the rest will have to stay home to keep the brood warm and tend to the queen.

—Place beehives in open areas with lots of sun. Too many orchardists worry too much about spreading out colonies for coverage and end up with hives in the shade or with trees blocking the entrances. Overall hive health and warmth is more important than spacing.

—Don’t use windbreaks. “Waste of time,” Olson called them. They just block the sun and do more harm than good. Besides, they only fool the bees for a few seconds; once the bees have flown above or around the break, they realize how windy it is and return to their hive.

—Place hives on top of bins or take other measures to keep them warm and dry. This is especially important for growers who use irrigation water for frost control. If hives get wet, they will spend the entire day drying out, which cools them down and keeps them home. Again, bees need to be warm to leave the hive.

—Make sure hives have fresh water. Bees like leaky irrigation faucets and trickling sprinkler heads. They also like mud. If you set out buckets, change out the water routinely and lay burlap over the water surface to prevent the bees from drowning.

—Make sure they have a nectar source. Bees find protein from the pollen in your trees but they need nectar for carbohydrates. Dandelions are a good source. “Obviously, I really believe in dandelions,” Olson said. •

– by Ross Courtney