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SA Farmers: Building Your Own Apiary vs Using a Pollination Service

should-farmers-create-an-apiary-or-use-pollination-service

Bees can boost your fruit farm’s output through tree fertilization, but should you keep them on site using quality beekeeping equipment or choose a pollination provider? Let’s weigh up the pros and cons of both to help you reach the best decision.

Effective pollination is essential for all farmers who produce fruits and food crops – and honeybees can help increase fertilization rates to boost output.

If you’re considering using bees to pollinate your fruit trees or crops, you have two main options: using a pollination service or setting up your own apiary. In this article we take a look at both of these approaches and weigh up the pros and cons to help you decide which route to follow.

Why Pollination Matters And How Bees Are Involved

Pollination is a crucial process in the agriculture industry and is crucial for the successful production of fruits and many staple crops. Transferring pollen between flowers is the first step in germination and seeding – and bees play a vital role in this process.

As a farmer looking to increase crop and fruit yield, the pollination process offers a unique opportunity to boost plant fertility, but where does beekeeping fit in? Let’s take a look at pollination in more detail and find out.

How Pollination Works

Honeybees play an important role in the pollination process, but from the bees’ point of view the good work they do is simply a byproduct of gathering nectar.

  • Honeybees gather nectar – a protein-rich sweet substance found in flowers – and return with it to the hive for feeding purposes.
  • This activity takes up many hours of a bee’s day as it flies from flower to flower sucking up nectar.
  • At the same time, it collects pollen from each flower and helps plants to become fertilized and create seeds.

As every fruit farmer knows, many flowers require pollen to be transferred from a male flower to a female one in order for fertilization and germination to take place.

You can boost this process by releasing bees and letting them fly around and land on flowers, spreading pollen as they go and facilitating the pollination process.

Pollination is essential for successful farming. Here are some agricultural products that rely on bees:

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Almonds

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Apples

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Mangoes

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Lychees

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Onions

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Plums

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Blueberries

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Avocadoes

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Canola

For most of these crops, the need for honeybee pollination arises because the cultivars used by farmers are self-incompatible. This requires the use of a pollinizer cultivar which is placed in close proximity to the other crops or trees.

Honeybees can be used to transfer pollen between the pollinizer and the regular crops, with different numbers of hives required per acre depending on the agricultural product being grown.

Here are some guidelines for farmers looking to pollinate using their own bees or a bee pollination service.

pollination-during-flowering

Pollination During Flowering: Timing Is Essential

  • Some fruit trees flower for just a few days a year, while others keep their blooms for several weeks.
  • If you plan to use bees to pollinate your fruit crops within this short period of time, they should be released when flowering is at 10% (when 10 out of 100 blossoms are open) for maximum fertilizing effectiveness.

Removing Competitive Plants Is Key

  • Bees won’t necessarily pollinate the crops or trees you want them to if there are more enticing options available.
  • Competitive plants, which are typically those that have flowers containing more nectar or that are more easily accessible, should be removed from the immediate vicinity so that the bees head straight for the target tree or crop plant.

Honeybee Pollination In 5 Easy Steps

Before you pollinate fruit trees using honeybees, you’ll need to ensure that you’re using the right method. Here are some guidelines for success:

  1. The bee colonies used should be queen right, with eight broad frames containing bees and four frames with younger bees at different stages of development.
  2. The bee colonies should be introduced in the field or orchard in flowering is at 10%. This is typically in the first few days of blooming.
  3. The bee colonies should be arranged in a circle to prevent the bees drifting away from the target plants and should be no more than 400 m apart.
  4. The beehives should be elevated to protect them from soil and groundwater. Using the right beekeeping tools, you should be able to manage your hives with ease. If the farm is known to contain honey badgers, the hives’ height should be elevated by at least 1 m.
  5. As mentioned above, it’s essential to remove competitive plants that could lure the bees away from the target trees and result in a low pollination rate.

How Much Should Pollination Cost?

The recent price increases due to inflation apply equally to the beekeeping industry, and it’s not unusual for pollination to cost upwards of R1000 per hive per week.

Depending on the size of your orchard or commercial farm it may make better economic sense to buy your own beekeeping equipment and create an apiary. In addition to this, having several beehives on your farm could produce an extra source of revenue in the form of honey production.

Here are some technical details to bear in mind before you set up your own beehives:

  • Farmers typically need 2 – 5 hives per hectare to supply enough bees for effective pollination.
  • Maintaining these hives could mean hiring someone to service them and extract honey on a regular basis.
  • The honey produced by your bees can be bottled and turned into a source of revenue, or you could allow a beekeeper to collect it in exchange for servicing your hives to reduce costs.
  • In time, you may decide to make honey production a major part of your farm’s output and hire a full-time beekeeper as a member of your staff.

Choosing a Pollination Service: What It Should Offer

A honeybee pollination provider can be a very valuable partner for any commercial farmer. If you don’t have the time or expertise to keep your own bees, selecting a pollination expert from a list of approved providers could be an excellent option.

Your pollination service should provide the following:

  • Preparing hives by cleaning
  • Repairing broken hives and baiting them to catch swarms
  • Permit costs for catch sites
  • Transport and labour to catch the swarms needed
  • Preparing the swarms for pollination by stimulation feeding
  • Movement of swarms onto and off the crops
  • Movement of swarms onto bee forage during off-season or artificially feeding to keep them from absconding

In addition to these services, using a pollination provider will also cover you in the following scenarios which can be costly for bee owners:

  • Replacing lost swarms due to Capensis infestation
  • Theft and vandalism resulting in loss of swarms and hives

Explore The Potential Of Beekeeping With The Right Equipment

If you’re ready to expand your farming activities to include beekeeping, we would love to help you get the equipment you need.

The table below contains the items you’ll need to obtain before you start pollinating your own crops using bees, the cost of purchasing them, and additional notes for first time beekeepers.

You’ll find all the equipment you need at excellent prices in our online store.

ItemRequired QtyApproximate Cost
Beehives2 – 5 per hectareR900 – R1275
Bee Suitsmin 2 pairsR1650 – R2650
Glovesmin 2 pairsR260 – R370
Gumbootsmin 2 pairsFrom R150
Bee Brushes2 minimumR60 – R120
Hives Tools2 minimumR70 – R250
Bee Smokers2 minimumR300 – R550
Queen Cages2 minimumR15 – R60
Uncapping Forks2 minimumR70 – R250
Heated Uncapping Knife2 minimumR850 – R1000
Honey Strainers2 minimumR120 – R300
Honey Buckets5 minimumR200 – R300
Honey Settling Tank2 minimumR2200
10l SS Buckets2 minimumR150
Electric Honey Extractor1R22000 – R38000

Don’t Forget The Bees, Bottles, and Permits

Before you set up your hives, there are three more things to consider:

Natural vs. Ready-Made Swarms
  • Some farmers opt to start their own bee colonies from scratch by setting up their hives and waiting for bees to move in during the swarming season in spring and summer.
  • If you’re keen to get started with honey production using bees from a trusted lineage – especially the queen – you can buy a swarm around the R2000 mark, including a hive box.
Bottles
  • Bottles and labels are essential for selling your honey. By registering as a reseller with Consol you’ll get discounted pricing on their industry leading glass jars.
The Paperwork
  • Finally, before you become a honey producer you’ll need a beekeeping permit from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF). You can click here for more info on how to obtain one.

Ready To Pollinate Using Bees? We’re Here To Help

Whether you decide to pollinate your crops by setting up your own beehives or choose to use the services of a professional pollination company, Bhive’s range of top quality beekeeping equipment and pollination directory are a great first stop for all your needs. Browse our range of top quality beekeeping products to get started with beekeeping and honey production.

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