What's the Buzz with ATTTA #30

Thursday, 14 January 2021

Up to this point there has been very little extreme weather in eastern Canada this winter.  By the middle of January, we have usually suffered through a couple of heavy snowstorms and a few days of bone chilling cold.  So far so good, as we say!  Beekeepers hope for mild winters and early springs to help our bees survive into another season.  Winter conditions are one factor which will dictate the strength of our hives in the spring.  As we wait to see how our bees get through this winter, the idea of what is a strong colony, especially as it relates to providing blueberry pollination, is worth a few minutes of discussion.

Hive Strength & Pollination Standard

What is the pollination standard for colonies sent to wild blueberries is a question often asked!  This is one of those topics which provoke much discussion and will not be resolved fully within the restrictions of this blog.  But there is information available to share and a couple of points worth mentioning.

The Canadian Association of Professional Apiculturists (CAPA) produces a document entitled, “A Guide To: Managing Bees for Crop Pollination.”  In this publication there is guidance on a colony standard for pollination.  It suggests that “a colony should have a minimum of eight deep frames fully covered in adult bees and 5 – 6 frames of brood in all stages of development.”  They go on to clarify that 50% of the frames should be covered by brood and all should be housed in two standard deep Langstroth hive bodies.  It must be stated that this is a generic guideline, not specific to wild blueberries, recommended for the pollination of orchards but nonetheless still insightful.


The Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association (NSBA) has a factsheet available outlining a standard for honey bee colonies used for pollination.  Available on the NSBA website is a clear, concise statement suggesting: 4 frames of brood (100% coverage of equivalent of 4 frames), 8 frames of bees (100% coverage of equivalent of 8 frames), 2 frames of honey, 1 laying queen.  Although not stated as specific to wild blueberries, this is endorsed by the Wild Blueberry Producers Association of Nova Scotia as a minimum standard.

For recommendations specific to blueberry pollination, there are additional standards available.  The New Brunswick Department of Agriculture, Aquaculture and Fisheries has an excellent fact sheet, which provides guidance on a standard pollination unit, entitled “Evaluating the Strength of Honey Bee Hives.”  Although this fact sheet contains information related to assessing hive strength, there are also guidelines which create a standard for pollination.  Generally, it states that a standard hive should contain, “at least two boxes, a laying queen, brood, and 25,000 to 30,000 honey bees.”  Further along in the document there are additional details. It is stated that honey bee colonies used for blueberry pollination should have six to ten frames with a variety of brood coverage present.

Our American friends also have something to contribute to the discussion of hive standard for wild blueberry pollination.  The University of Maine publishes a comprehensive guide called Honey Bees and Blueberry Pollination.  This documents states that, “a colony for pollinating blueberries should be housed in at least a two-story hive (preferably two deep hive bodies), containing at least 30,000 bees, and have 6 to 10 full frames of brood in all stages of development.”

When reviewing these recommendations for a standard hive for the pollination of wild blueberries there is more found in common than different across the range of documents.  The table summarizes the recommendations from the four organizations discussed above.

Table 1. Summary of a range of standard hive strength recommendations for honey bee colonies used in wild blueberry pollination.

Organization

Frames of Bees

Frames of Brood

Hive Bodies

No of Bees

Additional Comments

CAPA

8

5 - 6

2

-

-

NSBA

8

4

-

-

+ laying Queen

+ 2 frames honey

NB Dept. Agriculture

6 - 10

Variety of stages

2

25,000 – 30,000

+ laying Queen

U of Maine

6 - 10

All stages

2

30,000

-

It should also be accepted that we are talking about a general standard and this is not the mythical perfect hive.  Some hives will fall below the standard and some above in all these measures.  So the bigger picture of the average pollination strength of the combined colonies is what must be considered.  Therefore, a range is often recommended in these standards.  Bigger is not better when it comes to honey bee colonies!  A very large colony, exceeding the space available in its hive, will swarm and this is disadvantageous to beekeepers and blueberry producers alike.  This is also a reason for the recommendation that colonies sent to blueberry pollination are housed in two deep hive bodies (or equivalent).  A healthy hive with a laying queen is important.  A queenless colony will not contain the brood at all stages which encourages foraging (i.e. pollination) of the worker bees.  The recommendation that hives are sent to pollination with honey is also a good one.  This ensures that the colony remains healthy and has reserve stores if needed during pollination.

The information presented here is available online and pollinators are encouraged to read these documents in full.  Links can be found below.  Sending healthy and appropriately strong colonies to pollination is the goal of all beekeepers involved in this aspect of our industry.  Combined the recommendations put forward by different stakeholder provides a good indication of a standard pollination unit.  

CAPA “A Guide To: Managing Bees for Crop Pollination” 

Nova Scotia Beekeepers Association “Pollination Standard”

New Brunswick Department of Agriculture Aquaculture and Fisheries “Evaluating the Strength of Honey Bee Hives”

University of Maine “Honey Bees and Blueberry Pollination”


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