What crops use commercial bee hives for pollenation(like almonds)?
July 1, 2013 10:13 PM   Subscribe

I've just learned that commercial bee keepers often rent their bees to farmers to pollinate their crops. Here is an example of what I'm talking about. Can anyone provide me with a list of crops that use this method to pollinate their crops or the means to find out for myself?

In case what I'm asking isn't clear enough, I want to know what crops pay money to bee keepers to pollinate their crops. If the answer is "all of them," then be even more specific and tell me which use bees that are not local.
posted by vash to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Self-pollenators, like tomatoes, dont require bees. Also, plants that require cloning/grafting, like apples also wouldn't need them (see this post from the blue). And, while bees are excellent multi-purpose pollenators, there are a lot of plants out there, certain orchids for example, that they simply lack the physical mechanism for pollenating, like their bodies are too short or their mouthparts don't reach the pollen.
posted by sexyrobot at 10:21 PM on July 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Define "not local." Most large orchards have bees trucked in, and I doubt there is a central resource listing where every fruit farmer's bees come from.
posted by Nomyte at 10:56 PM on July 1, 2013

Best answer: Also, plants that require cloning/grafting, like apples also wouldn't need them

Grafting is used to propagate apples, but pollination is still necessary. This study from 2000 (pdf) said that almond, apple and melon growers rented the most bee colonies in 1989 and 1999.
posted by Knappster at 11:08 PM on July 1, 2013

Response by poster: Basically I don't like bee keeping, so I don't like the idea that they are being supported financially by farmers who have them pollinate their crops. I would like to avoid buying those crops, and that's why I asked this.
posted by vash at 11:10 PM on July 1, 2013

oh yeah, that's fully crazytown...as in, you might starve...yeah they definitely pollinate that large a percentage of food crops. Just did a quick google of some vegan anti-beekeeping propoganda...wow. that is some high-level tinfoil-hattery. Sorry to be so blunt. Look, I get it, you don't want to hurt the animals, but beekeeping is actually beneficial to bees...they are provided with a) a safe secure home designed to meet all of their needs b) protection from predators and c) (usually) some extra heat in the winter to stop or reduce (natural, seasonal) die-off. If you think honey is somehow wrong and belongs only to the bees, don't eat it...but trucking them to a place where they can get more food and pollen? Yeah, that's not doing them any harm, quite the opposite...it's what's known as a 'mutually beneficial relationship' and one that we honestly probably could not live without.
posted by sexyrobot at 11:46 PM on July 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

Basically I don't like bee keeping, so I don't like the idea that they are being supported financially by farmers who have them pollinate their crops.

The hell now?

Here's your list. If a particular food is on that list, then you can assume that if it's being raised commercially that there's a better than even chance that the farmer is paying for bees. Whether or not said bees are "local" is impossible to tell. There are a finite (and shrinking) number of beekeepers, and they go where they're needed. A distant relative of mine is a beekeeper in the Upper Midwest, and she goes about a thousand miles in every direction but north.

You want to avoid crops pollinated with bees? Best stop eating fruits and vegetables.
posted by valkyryn at 2:14 AM on July 2, 2013 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I think I know what your'e getting at - migratory beekeeping isn't great for the bees, and there are some folks in the beekeeping community that think the practice has exacerbated existing problems.

But even small-scale, local farmers and growers in the community will hire a few local hives in the spring.

In Tennessee, when you register your apiary with the state department of agriculture, you indicated whether or not you'd be willing to provide pollination (and/or swarm retrieval) services, and if so, how far you'd be willing to travel. They put you on a list of some kind and that's that. I'm way too lazy for that sort of thing, so I marked 'no', but I know of other guys who will park 3 or 4 hives at the end of a farm for a month or two each year, or permanently, if desired by the landowner.

But the figure that get's thrown around a lot is that every third bite of food we take is brought to you, in part, by Apis mellifera, which is why the colony loss problem is a really big deal.
posted by jquinby at 6:13 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I understand your concern, truly, but you gotta understand- this will mean rearranging your entire life, basically. More than veganism. Much more.

If you seriously wanted to try this, start looking into pre-Columbian exchange American foods. The honeybee was brought here by Europeans, as were all the crops it pollinates.

If you think honey is somehow wrong and belongs only to the bees, don't eat it...but trucking them to a place where they can get more food and pollen? Yeah, that's not doing them any harm, quite the opposite...it's what's known as a 'mutually beneficial relationship' and one that we honestly probably could not live without.

Unfortunately, this is not at all the case. Large-scale commercial beekeeping practices are actually very, very bad for bees in a number of ways. There's a reason bees kept that way are more susceptible to die-off than bees who get to stay in one place all year, eat a varied diet, not be exposed to pesticides, and not get fed back corn syrup in winter.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:01 AM on July 2, 2013

By far the largest example of this is almonds. Something like three quarters of the mobile hives in the US are trucked each year to one valley in California to set the almond crop. They come in from all over the US.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:13 AM on July 2, 2013

Correction: it's about half of the hives.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:19 AM on July 2, 2013

Almonds, low bush blueberries and I think watermelon and squash. The hives apparently make a circuit of the country with the seasons starting in California and ending in Maine. Here's some details of other crops.
posted by hydrobatidae at 7:23 AM on July 2, 2013

Response by poster: jquinby is there any source you can give me where I can read about farmers hiring local hives? If that's the case, I'll just have to accept it until I can start growing my own food.
posted by vash at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2013

Best answer: I can't point to any hard data, only anecdotal evidence, for whatever that's worth. For example - there's a guy who grows strawberries in my area and has had a few guy's hives parked on his land for years, but the beekeeper is getting on in years and a friend of mine is likely to take it over at some point (the strawberry field is basically down the road from my buddy's place). Another guy who spoke at our association mentioned his going rates for pollination (so much per hive per week) and gets calls every now and again from fruit growers nearby who want to rent hives during blossom season.

The little secret there is that if the orchards are within a mile or two of the hives, the bees are likely to find them anyway...parking the hive in the middle of the trees will certainly up your chances though.

So it's all pretty informal. As I mentioned, though, you can get on the state list and the list is distributed to county extension agents. If someone decides to plant pumpkins or cucurbits one year, she might ring up the local extension office and get put in touch with somebody reasonably local. Or she might know a beekeeper down the road and just make a quick phone call.

Your local beekeeping association could probably tell you how many of its members are doing pollination and at what scale.
posted by jquinby at 9:24 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Do you object to industrial, large-scale beekeeping practices? Or is it the very concept of humans keeping hives that bothers you, no matter how hands-off the keepers are?
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2013

To your question about small farms hiring local hives, the CSA I bought a share from last season teamed up with a beekeeper to do this.

Anecdotally, my mother-in-law lives in a dense-suburb, and she and many neighbors keep backyard veggie gardens. For the last two years she's kept bees and the whole block has had a huge increase in yields. When she walks the dogs she likes to spot her bees in neighbors flowers: "Theres one of my girls!"

So even if you grow backyard veggies you're not going to be totally removed from human-tended bees.
posted by fontophilic at 11:03 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: I don't have a problem with people having bee hives on their land. If they don't take honey or otherwise fuck with them, I am fine with it.
posted by vash at 11:42 AM on July 2, 2013

Some people keep garden hives for this very purpose. They're just large enough for a colony to live and over-winter, but they're not going to produce prodigious amounts of surplus honey. Folks keep them for the pollination alone, and generally don't manipulate them a whole lot. The downside for some keepers is that smaller containers left on their own will throw swarms faster. Swarming is 100% natural behavior (it's how colonies reproduce) but in dense suburban areas where people can already get a little alarmed at the site of bees, a swarm is something you'd like to try to minimize.

The manipulation, in this case, would be to split the population before it gets too crowded. One colony will end up with a queen, the other will not. The queenless group will create a queen of their own, and now you've got two.

There are a couple of low-impact beekeeping methods that basically reduce manipulations to a minimum. Warre Hives, for example, are harvested once per year in the fall but otherwise left to their own. No fidgety frames or foundation, nothing except what amounts to a man-made tree-trunk. These methods - with a couple of notable exceptions - don't scale very well, and the overwhelming majority of bees in the US are kept in the Langstroth hives that you see pretty much everywhere.
posted by jquinby at 1:16 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

My family kept bee hives year around for the small peach orchard farm that I grew up on. The transition from family farms to agribusiness has changed a lot of things, including the management of crop pollination.

Understand that the common honey bee, Apis melllifera, is an introduced non-native species to the US. Their presence has had significant impacts on native bee species.

As of 2010 data honey bees are the primary pollinator for not less than 53 crops grown in California. Providing the bees was a $224 million part of CA agriculture. Products derived from bees values: Honey, $50 million; beeswax, $3.1 million; sale of live bees and queen bees, $10.1 million. For comparison almonds are a $2.6 billion part of CA agriculture. The millions of almond trees in the Central Valley all bloom and can be pollinated within a very short window, less than 2 weeks. No bees, no pollination. No pollination no crop.

The beekeepers are paid to provide the thousands of beehives necessary for the pollination. They pick up the hives and continue to move them northward, following the blossoming of all the other crops that depend on them.
posted by X4ster at 3:31 PM on July 2, 2013

This is a nice illustration of the impact of bees- what a produce section looks like without pollinators. Now, a decent number of these crops can be pollinated with native bees, but that is definitely not the case for all.
posted by rockindata at 5:12 PM on July 2, 2013

Response by poster: I feel like we've gotten a little off-topic. The information on suburban beekeeping is interesting, but right now I'm just looking for help with the original question.

rockindata, that's pretty cool, but it's hard for me to tell what food is there just from the picture.
posted by vash at 5:18 PM on July 2, 2013

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