Hive Strength for Wild Blueberry Pollination

Thursday 21 April 2022

This week’s blog concludes our series on managing honey bee hives during wild blueberry pollination with a discussion of hive strength. Establishing a hive strength standard is an important tool for beekeepers and wild blueberry producers. A hive standard sets a guideline for the minimum requirement for colonies being used for pollination. It is measured in terms of colony strength, which is a measure of the population size and population structure of the colony. Read on for a more detailed look at hive strength and our hive strength recommendation for wild blueberry pollination. 

Hive Strength for Wild Blueberry Pollination

The determination of hive strength and a hive standard is an often-discussed topic in relation to the pollination of wild blueberries. There are acceptable standards recommended by provincial governments and national organizations, which use measures including frames of bees, amount of brood, number of hive bodies, number of bees, presence of a laying queen, and number of honey frames. Not all of these measures are included in each hive strength standard, but it is important to understand the reasoning behind each of these requirement factors. 

Frames of bees is an important consideration as this reflects the population of worker bees available in the colony for pollination. The actual number of bees provides the same information, in theory, but is more difficult to determine. Counting seams of bees, assessed by peering through the interspace between top bars, is another way to estimate the population of bees in a colony. The amount of brood is an indication of productiveness of the queen and how well the colony will be able to sustain the population of foraging worker bees. The number of hive bodies is important to consider since this determines how much space the colony has to support brood rearing and resource storage, both of which are key factors in maintaining colony strength and swarm management. Some hive strength standards explicitly state that a laying queen must be present, as this ensures that brood production will continue throughout the pollination timeframe. Some hive strength standards also require a certain number of honey frames be present in hives being used in pollination, which is important especially in the case of wild blueberry pollination since honey bees do not often collect substantial amounts of nectar from blueberry blooms to maintain optimal colony strength. All of these measures directly relate back to the strength of the colony and so are used to create these guidelines for hive strength standards.

ATTTA performed field work in the summer of 2021 to measure the average hive strength of honey bee hives used for wild blueberry pollination in Atlantic Canada. We assessed frames of bees, seams of bees, brood quantity, and flying bees in over 150 colonies which had just been placed on wild blueberry fields. We also assessed the pollination success on those fields, by measuring fruit set, the quantity of harvestable berries, berry weight, etc. Using our data, other accepted and relevant hive strength standards, and through discussion with industry and experts we recommend that, at placement for wild blueberry pollination the average honey bee pollination unit should be: the equivalent of 8 frames of bees and 4 frames of brood, a laying queen, approximately 20 000 bees in two 10 frame deep Langstroth hive bodies. Remember that hive strength standard is considered as an average among all hives involved, with some colonies being above and some perhaps slightly below but ultimately evening out to achieve the hive strength standard for pollination. 

In Memory of Alex Crouse

On April 6th we lost a vibrant member of the Nova Scotia beekeeping community, past NSBA President Alex Crouse. Alex was passionate beekeeper, always eager to engage and share his knowledge with others. We would like to remember him here for all that he has done for our beekeeping community.

Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

If you’d like to connect with ATTTA specialists or learn more about our program, you can: