Bees play a key role in growing ‘Jersey Fresh’ fruits and veggies
For the past several years, the bee population in the United States has been dropping dramatically, but finally the trend seems to be changing. This is very good news for farmers who rely on bees to pollinate their crops.
According to New Jersey State Beekeeper Tim Schuler, honeybee colonies are still struggling, probably threatened by a combination of pesticides and a certain type of deadly parasite called the varroa mite. Beekeeping activity has increased in Jersey and across the country, however, so the overall population is starting to rise.
"Honeybees are different than yellow jackets, wasps and hornets," he said. "They live as a big family in a hive and they consume pollen and nectar."
Schuler said as they're out gathering nectar and pollen, the bees actually transfer pollen from one plant to another and in certain types of plants that's very necessary "in order to have good fruit produced on those plants, whether they be nuts, berries or fruits."
He said in the next few weeks, blueberry plants in Jersey will start to bloom.
"Blueberry growers contract with beekeepers to bring in a certain number of colonies, and the beekeeper will bring them in, they'll distribute them across the farm," he said. "They'll usually do this at night because the honey bees stay in their house at night, and the next day the bees come out, and they start foraging on the blueberry plants in the farmer's fields."
According to Schuler, it usually takes one-and-a-half to two colonies of bees per acre for maximum pollination to occur. There are between 20,000 and 60,000 bees in a single colony.
By bringing in the honey bees to pollinate the fields, Schuler said, "the crop would be much larger both in size and in volume, and let's face it if you ever ate blueberries, you'd rather eat the ones that are the size of a grape as opposed to the ones that are the size of your little finger nail."
In New Jersey, honeybees are used to pollinate and improve all kinds of crops, including apples, cherries, blueberries, cranberries, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers and melons.
Schuler said a honeybee in the summer lives about six weeks, those born in the fall will live four to five months in the hive and the queen bee lives two to three years. Schuler also said a honey bee will only sting you for two reasons - to defend itself, or defend the hive.
"If you see a bee hive and you throw rocks at it, they may come out and sting you," he said. "If there are bees in your backyard and your child or you run out in your bare feet and step on one and you're going to squish it, it'll probably sting you."