Honey play an important role in the of many . Managed pollination is the most efficient way to achieve this for top fruits and soft fruits to arable crops such as oil seed rape (OSR), field beans and borage.

The increasing size of today’s fields and orchards along with high costs involved using artificial fertilisers mean that farmers should be looking to consider the benefits of managed pollination. By putting the correct number of managed hives into or around these crops guarantees pollination. It  also increases yield and provides better quality fruit. Wild pollinators and domestic pollinator populations (bumble bees, solitary bees, hover flies) are at an all time low and most feral honey bee colonies have been lost to varroa, yet another reason that pollination management has become increasingly important to the farmer and the environment.

Natural pollinators such as bumble bees and solitary bees are very small colonies by early spring , when they are most needed. Their queens will have just begun to set up nests and are rearing young worker bees. The benefits of honey bees placed in early spring are huge in comparison as honey bee colonies coming out of the winter will contain 25,000/30,000 bees with the queen.  This means that one honey bee colony equals 300 bumble bee colonies.

Oil seed rape

Research in Canada shows an improvement in seed yield by 15-20 per cent with the presence of honey bees at two hives per hectare compared to the absence of hives (2005 Sabbahi). There is also the benefit of a uniform and early pod set with a much shorter flowering period of nearly four days which could benefit disease control.

If OSR is grown for seed the presence of bees also increases germination success from 83 per cent to 96 per cent. Oil content is also increases by approximately 4 per cent.

Field Beans

Field beans will have more pods set on the lower trusses and can increase yield by 11 cwt per acre (1380kg/ha ) with the introduction of managed hives.

Borage

High level of pollination is essential for borage to produce maximum yields. The flower head of borage  plants open for one day only. Therefore, it is crucial to get hives to the crop just before

flowering begins. Trials in New Zealand showed 20 per cent increase in yield when hives were introduced to the crop.

Top fruit and Soft Fruit

These all benefit from managed pollination. Quality is far superior, seed content is high making for better shape fruit and higher yields. The calcium content in apples is increased with insect pollination giving the fruit a longer storage life. Hives need to be introduced to these crop once there is approximately 5 per cent blossom. This encourages bees to work right away. Bees placed too early may search for other food sources away from the target crops. This is where the expertise of the professional bee farmer comes in.

Members of the Bee Farmers Association of the UK have generations of experience of providing the correct number of hives in the tight condition to how to work at the time they are required. This is SMART bee farming – Specific, Measured, Achievable, Relevant and Timed.

SMART bee farming = good pollination

Hive placement is crucial, hive entrances should face south to south easterly to protect from prevailing winds and be kept off the ground (using pallets) away from footpaths and bridle ways.

Honey bees can be used in a polly tunnel or green house environment for soft fruits, but would need to be fed sugar syrup which would encourage pollen collection. Yields can be increase by 30 per cent and fruit size can increase by 10 per cent. Misshapen fruit is also reduced significantly.

The Bee Farmers Association of the UK is the only organisation in the UK to have a Pollination Officer whose job is to look after this important aspect of bee farming and to the biodiversity of the our country.

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