The ABCs of bees
Pollination is one of the most important factors in a good fruit crop. The information in these articles is designed to be used by growers as a guide to discuss their personal situation with their beekeeper so that they can create a plan that meets their individual needs and comfort level.
As a beekeeper and orchardist, I am frequently asked how many hives of bees are required to adequately pollinate various tree fruits. This straightforward question does not have a straightforward answer. Pollination is a natural process that is impacted by numerous variables, such as colony strength, hive placement in the fruit orchard, and the timing of placement and removal of the hives. Other factors include density of planting, availability of cross pollinators, fruit variety, and the weather conditions.
The number of colonies needed in an orchard is based on the number of blossoms, the number of visits needed per blossom, the amount of bees, and the length of time for pollination. Each portion of this equation is made up of smaller equations. For example, the number of visits required per blossom is dependent on the amount of cross pollen available in the orchard, and the number of bees needed is dependent on the colony strength and the number of hives per acre.
The most important factor in deciding the number of hives to place in an orchard is the grower's comfort level. Each grower must balance the cost of pollination versus the expected return. The cost of bees at any price is small compared to crop failure. —E. Olson
Eric Olson is a beekeeper and orchardist in Yakima, Washington.