Honey Bee Nutrition in Commercial Pollination

Thursday 10 November 2022

Honey bees are often used as either primary or supplemental pollinators in commercial agriculture. They are transported to flowering crop fields during the bloom period and subsequently returned to their home apiaries after providing pollination services. Honey bee nutrition depends on the colony’s surrounding floral sources, as this is where foragers can obtain pollen and nectar. Researchers in Australia have recently published a report which improves our knowledge of honey bee foraging behavior during crop pollination, read on to learn more about their encouraging findings. 

Honey Bee Nutrition in Commercial Pollination

In 2017, two Australian almond orchards were used as study sites to investigate the identity, quantity, and timing of pollen collection by honey bees used for pollination services (Bezerra da Silva Santos et al. 2022). In these orchards, beehives were distributed at several different locations within the fields. One orchard was stocked at 0.04 hives per hectare, holding 96 hives in 2,375 hectares, and the other was stocked at 0.06 hives per hectare, with 71 hives in a 1,200-hectare plot. Almond blossoms in this region are typically present in late August and early September for about two to four weeks. The colony placement preceded bloom by 7 days, and they then remained for 21 additional days of the full bloom period.  Pollen traps were placed on 80 colonies between the two fields and contents of trays were collected every 48 hours of the open bloom period. 

Foraging honey bees with yellow pollen packed in their corbiculae (ATTTA©2022).

This study demonstrated that honey bees collected an array of pollen varieties while placed on almond orchards. Seventy-nine percent of hives contained pollen from both non-almond and almond flowers.  This indicates that foragers were not limited to almond blossoms for nutrition. Almond pollen was most heavily collected at the beginning of the flowering period, with about 70% of all almond pollen collection being within the first three sampling days. This was the time at which there was the greatest number of open almond flowers. The researchers also found that the location within the orchards had no impact on the plant species of pollen collected. 

The results of this study are encouraging for beekeepers engaged in commercial pollination. It adds to the limited amount of research on honey bee nutrition during pollination. Wild blueberry pollination falls at a critical time for beekeepers in Atlantic Canada, as it is the beginning of our beekeeping season. There is nationwide concern among beekeepers regarding the health of their colonies during blueberry pollination, particularly related to nutritional stress (McAfee 2018). While wild blueberry pollination has important distinctions from almond pollination, the results of this study add to our general understanding of how honey bees forage on large, monoculture fields. This paper reflects that foragers are able to reach a variety of floral sources even in a vast orchard of almond blossoms. This is optimistic for beekeepers, as floral variety supports healthy honey bee nutrition (Donkersley et al. 2017).

In next week’s blog, we will discuss honey bee foraging as it relates more closely to wild blueberries and honey bee pollination in Atlantic Canada.   


Bezerra da Silva Santos, Karen Cristine, Elizabeth Frost, Ulrika Samnegård, Manu E. Saunders, and Romina Rader. 2022. “Pollen Collection by Honey Bee Hives in Almond Orchards Indicate Diverse Diets.” Basic and Applied Ecology 64 (November): 68–78. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.baae.2022.07.006.

Donkersley, Philip, Glenn Rhodes, Roger W. Pickup, Kevin C. Jones, Eileen F. Power, Geraldine A. Wright, and Kenneth Wilson. 2017. “Nutritional Composition of Honey Bee Food Stores Vary with Floral Composition.” Oecologia 185 (4): 749–61. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00442-017-3968-3.

McAfee, Ali. 2018. “The Blueberries and the Bees.” Bee Scene, 2018.

 Connecting with ATTTA Specialists

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