Using Bees in the Greenhouse for Natural Pollination

Bumblebees
Bumblebees have better sight orientation than honeybees, allowing them to see refracted light. They also do better in cooler temperatures and a variety of environmental conditions.

Greenhouse produce growers are finding that the demand for high-quality fruits, vegetables, and herbs year-round is requiring they yield more to keep up. Enter natural pollination, the process of using bees to pollinate fruits and vegetables. Using bumblebees to pollinate plants inside the greenhouse is one way to improve crop quality, increase yield, and reduce labor.

Here’s what growers need to know before handling hives.

The Pros

Bees certainly have their benefits. According to Ryan Hill, Sales Manager at Koppert Biological Systems, a bumblebee producer and the brand behind Natupol, Tripol, and Natufly, the biggest advantage is that bee pollination results in better fruit.

“If someone is looking to increase their yield and grow more fruit, they should consider natural pollination,” he says. “Certain crops need to be pollinated to produce fruit. If not, the fruit will be misshapen, odd, or the plant won’t produce fruit at all.”

Another advantage to bee pollination is that it reduces an operation’s reliance on human workers. Paul Koole, Technical Team Coordinator North America at Biobest, a commercial bumblebee producer since 1987 with rearing facilities around the world, says the labor savings can be considerable. He guesses that depending on a greenhouse’s size, it could take 10 times the number of employees to hand-pollinate crops at the same rate as bees.

Hill agrees, saying that of the pollination options — bees or humans — the insects have the advantage of being much more efficient.

Introducing hives into a greenhouse can also help growers maintain an environmentally friendly space. Because chemical pesticides will kill the bees before they can get busy, greenhouse operations must minimize or stop using these products prior to purchasing bees. Then, Koole says, growers need to introduce hives on a regular basis to maintain consistent pollination in the greenhouse.

“The hive has a lifespan of eight to 12 weeks, after which the bees die,” he says. “Growers start with a certain number of hives, then introduce more on a weekly or bi-weekly basis for even pollination.”

How many hives an operation requires depends on the variety of the fruit or vegetable crop that requires pollination, the size of the greenhouse, and the crop’s window for flowering. The more flowers, the more bees needed to do the job. Koole says the goal is to mimic what happens in nature but to provide the service year-round.

Overall the process is simple: Growers purchase the bees, which come in a box. After giving the box time to climatize, workers open the door and walk away. From there, the bees fly from flower to flower, retrieving pollen to feed their young and taking some of that pollen with them from plant to plant.

Koppert feature
Growers can purchase bees in a box that will fly from flower to flower, distributing pollen among the plants.

The Considerations

Bee pollination is a great option for some greenhouses. Despite its simplicity, however, it isn’t right for everyone. The process takes careful consideration, and the devil is in the details. For example, not all bees are created equal. Both Koppert Biological Systems and Biobest use bumblebees instead of honeybees.

While both types of bees can act as pollinators, bumblebees have clear advantages. Hill says that bumblebees have better sight orientation that allows them to fly in greenhouses where refracted light can confuse honeybees. Bumblebees can also fly in poorer weather conditions and colder temperatures, which is ideal for growers who fill greenhouses with food crops during cold months.

Unlike bumblebees, Koole says honeybees go for a flower’s nectar to help them produce honey. Because bumblebees don’t produce honey, they go after the pollen, using nectar to fuel their flights from plant to plant.

Because bee pollinators need to work alongside human staff, bumblebees also have the advantage of being better colleagues. Hill and Koole agree they are less aggressive than honeybees and tend to stay out of the way.

“I’ve only personally been stung once, and it was because a bee got caught under my sleeve and was stuck,” Koole says. “If you’re calm around the bees and don’t swat at them or kick the hive, you have nothing to worry about.”

Growers also must consider whether bee pollination makes sense for their crop mix. Bumblebees work best with some fruits (berries), vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant), and seed crops (cabbage, carrots, and cucumbers).

“Natural pollination is not needed for ornamental plants,” Hill says. “The bees will go after the pollen, but there aren’t any tangible benefits.”

The Bottom Line

For operations that aren’t set up to introduce natural pollinators, the process could take some work. Hive boxes can provide a cost-effective and efficient alternative to hand pollination, but for greenhouses that rely on heavy pesticide use, bees might not be the best option. Growers who are considering natural pollination should work with a company to institute the perfect plan to meet their unique needs.

Topics: , ,

Leave a Reply

2 comments on “Using Bees in the Greenhouse for Natural Pollination

More From Production...
Adult Thrips feature

February 20, 2018

Thrips Causing Headaches? New Research Shows Bio-based IPM Offers the Best Control

Dr. Rose Buitenhuis will present practical knowledge for growers to implement immediately during Biocontrols West Conference in San Diego, March 7-9.

Read More

February 18, 2018

Why Biochar Might Eventually Replace Peat Moss

In a recent study, researchers from the University of California, Davis investigated biochar as an alternative to peat moss.

Read More

February 15, 2018

Boxwood Blight, Seed Your Future Among Topics Receiving HRI Research Funding in 2018

The Horticultural Research Institute recently announced the 10 research projects that will receive funding in 2018 to investigate challenges and solutions in production, pest management, environmental stewardship, and business and marketing.

Read More
Latest Stories
Adult Thrips feature

February 20, 2018

Thrips Causing Headaches? New Research Shows Bio-based …

Dr. Rose Buitenhuis will present practical knowledge for growers to implement immediately during Biocontrols West Conference in San Diego, March 7-9.

Read More

February 18, 2018

Why Biochar Might Eventually Replace Peat Moss

In a recent study, researchers from the University of California, Davis investigated biochar as an alternative to peat moss.

Read More

February 15, 2018

Boxwood Blight, Seed Your Future Among Topics Receiving…

The Horticultural Research Institute recently announced the 10 research projects that will receive funding in 2018 to investigate challenges and solutions in production, pest management, environmental stewardship, and business and marketing.

Read More
Jose-Milan-Bayer

February 11, 2018

Bayer Has New Turf and Ornamentals Global Market Manage…

Jose Milan will be focused on helping growers deal with regulatory issues, while promoting the environmental benefits the ornamentals industry offers.

Read More
americanhort-plug-and-cutting-conference-2016

February 2, 2018

Registration Now Open for AmericanHort’s 2018 Plug &…

This year’s conference will take place Sept. 17-19 in Charlotte, NC, and features educational sessions, a tour, and a hands-on workshop.

Read More
CoolTerra

January 25, 2018

Innovative Biochar Technology Gains U.S. Patent

Cool Planet, a company that developed and markets Engineered Biocarbon technology products, was recently issued a patent for its Enhanced Biochar, a primary component of Cool Planet’s Engineered Biocarbon technology.

Read More
Belchim Crop Protection

January 24, 2018

Engage Agro Now Doing Business as Belchim Crop Protecti…

For more than 30 years, Belchim has been providing agricultural customers internationally, including greenhouse growers, with more than 100 well-known products.

Read More
lucas-greenhouses-plant-roots-growing-mix

January 19, 2018

8 Opportunities to Help You Prepare for the Spring Grow…

Three New England universities are collaborating on a weekly webinar program covering topics such as pest management, making the most of growing media, and more.

Read More
Whitefly-Feeding-on-Poinsettias-feature

January 18, 2018

Mitigating Whiteflies in Ornamental Production

Gain better control over common greenhouse and nursery pests with these best practices.

Read More
Iron-Chlorosis-in-Hydrangea-feature

January 12, 2018

How pH and EC Monitoring Can Help You Manage Nutrition …

In part two of this five-part series about the tools you need to keep track of your greenhouse environment, learn about the various methods for tracking pH and EC.

Read More
Leaf-Distortion-in-New-Guinea-Impatiens

January 11, 2018

Plan Ahead for Spring Season in the Greenhouse by Follo…

In a recent report on the Michigan State University Extension website, Floriculture Educator Jeremy Jubenville presents a short list of ideas that can help growers nip predictable problems in the bud, so they have more time to focus on any new situations that arise.

Read More
Dummen-Orange-Koppert-GreenGuard-Program

January 11, 2018

Dümmen Orange, Koppert Partner on Launch of New IPM Sys…

Dümmen Orange plans to incorporate Koppert Biological System’s beneficial insects into its pot chrysanthemum cuttings program, with the end goal being minimal use of chemicals further down the chain.

Read More
Irrigation-feature

January 8, 2018

How Clean Is Your Greenhouse Irrigation System?

The start of a new year is a good time to double check your irrigation system to make sure your crops receive the best quality water they can for optimal growth.

Read More
Soil-pH feature

January 7, 2018

How Direct-Stick Meters Can Help Take the Guesswork Out…

Monitoring your soil pH is critical to maintaining the health of your greenhouse crops. Try these tips for managing pH, as well as accurately testing your soil with direct-stick soil pH meters.

Read More
Greenspire-Procidic

December 25, 2017

New Fungicide Helps Control Mildews and Rot in Ornament…

Greenspire Global, Inc. has developed Procidic, a bactericide and fungicide that provides effective disease control without synthetics.

Read More

December 21, 2017

Dümmen Orange Confirms Presence of Xanthomonas in Begon…

In a December 16 letter to its customers, Dümmen Orange said it had encountered an issue in its El Salvador-based Las Mercedes production facility, where bacterial leaf spot had been confirmed in begonia production.

Read More

December 21, 2017

Plantpeddler Provides Guidelines for Xanthomonas Bacter…

A leading producer of Begonia young plant liners and finished plants, Cresco, IA-based Plantpeddler has issued the following informational guidelines on Bacterial Leaf Spot in Begonias.

Read More
BASF Orkestra Intrinsic

December 18, 2017

California Growers Have a New Disease Control Tool

BASF’s Orkestra Intrinsic fungicide has been approved in California for control of several ornamental plant diseases.

Read More