Pollination for Beginners

Thursday 2 February 2023

Wild blueberries are a major industry in the Canadian Maritimes. Nationally, wild blueberries were the most economically significant food crop in 2020 and the Maritime provinces contribute about half of our overall production (Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada 2020). The high production capacity of the wild blueberry industry is closely linked to the honey bee industry. Honey bees are the most common pollinators of wild blueberries, a plant which depends on insects for pollination and berry development. Providing pollination services is a great opportunity for Atlantic Canadian beekeepers. Read on for tips on how to get started!

Pollination for Beginners

It is a great time for Atlantic beekeepers to get involved in wild blueberry pollination! Pollination is a critical service in agricultural production, and the demand for pollinating units on wild blueberry fields is high. Providing pollination services is accessible to beekeepers of all scales. Just like there are small scale beekeepers, there are small scale blueberry producers.

Provincial beekeeper and wild blueberry producer associations are an excellent resource when beginning pollination services. First of all, these groups are knowledgeable of the industry and can help facilitate new connections. For example, check out the NBBA Bee Yard or WBPANS Marketplace to explore local networks. Secondly, experienced members within these associations can offer guidance and mentorship with practical matters as you get started. Learn from the knowledge of others and find out what works for them, so that you can find out what works for you!

Wild blueberry field in bloom. ©ATTTA 2023

It is possible to start into pollination services without needing any extra equipment. If you have a pickup truck, you can transport your colonies! Typically, beekeepers get started by manually lifting hives into a truck bed and unloading them in the blueberry field. Hives should be tightly secured together with straps before moving them and then safely secured in the truck bed. It is common practice to relocate colonies to blueberry fields during the night, while the bees are at rest, so be sure to coordinate the precise destination of the colonies before heading to the field. Blueberry producers and beekeepers need to coordinate a location on the field with good apiary conditions and ensure that the person moving the hives will be able to find and access this location. Visiting sites ahead of time can be useful, as well. Just like in their home apiary, honey bee colonies need to be spaced to reduce drift, resting off the ground, and protected with a bear fence during the pollination period.

A pollination contract is a useful tool for ensuring pollination services run smoothly. The New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island Beekeepers Associations all have sample pollination contracts which can guide this agreement. Arrangements for pollination should be made well ahead of time. 

There is room for growth within the pollination industry. If hand lifting becomes arduous, investing in a tailgate lift can increase your capacity. Moving hives on trailers is another option. In this case, the hives could remain on the trailer and the trailer sits in the field for the pollination period. Ultimately, large-scale pollination involves palletization of hives and heavy duty equipment for handling these pallets.

Incorporating pollination services into your beekeeping is a great way to diversify your income. If you are successful, there is always potential to expand! Being mindful as you grow will save you time, money, and stress along the way. The best way to do this is by exploring what others are doing and finding what works for you!

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. Statistical Overview of the Canadian Fruit Industry 2020. Published online June 2021. https://agriculture.canada.ca/en/canadas-agriculture-sectors/horticulture/horticulture-sector-reports

ATTTA Summer Student!

We are looking for a summer student to join the Atlantic Tech Transfer Team for Apiculture in the upcoming season. It is shaping up to be a busy summer filled with bees and blueberries! Find the full job description here and apply by February 24th!

ATTTA field work ©ATTTA 2021

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