Bees – June 2019

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

Timing is key; our team waits until a bog is at about 20 to 40% bloom so the bees have enough to immediately start pollinating. This is important because cranberries are actually a lot of work for honeybees. On a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm. Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA.

We don’t rely entirely on our hard-working beekeepers; native pollinators such as bumblebees are also valuable to us, and bumblebees will work in wet and/or windy conditions. Bumblebees have other advantages: they work faster, visiting many more flowers per minute. Their large size lets them carry huge pollen loads, allowing longer foraging trips, and achieving better contact with flowers. Larger deposits of pollen promote pollination as well as the formation of more uniform and larger fruit. Perhaps most importantly, bumblebees are naturally attracted to cranberry plants!

There was some concern that all of the recent rain might have an adverse effect on the colonies, but we were spared the worst of the recent storms and manager Mike Haines isn’t too worried. “I called Dan [Schiffhauer] because I was worried a little about the weather. Yesterday morning it wasn’t raining, but it was warm and humid and I thought they’d be out there. All I saw were bumblebees. But Dan said they’re sensitive to pressure changes from storms coming and in those circumstances might stay close to the colony. By the afternoon they were working like crazy; as long as I see fruit setting, and I have, then they’re doing the work.”

“We’re counting our blessings we didn’t get hit too hard like we have in the past,” Mike says. “As far as the bees go, they’re working when they can; as long as we get a few more good days in there, we’ll do fine as far as pollination is concerned.”

Bees! – June 2018

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

Timing is key; our team waits until a bog is at about 20 to 40% bloom so the bees have enough to immediately start pollinating. This is important because cranberries are actually a lot of work for honeybees. On a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm. Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA.

Traditionally we place two bee colonies per acre every spring, but manager Mike Haines has some ideas about that for future growing seasons. “The growers out in Wisconsin are really knowledgeable about bees, right down to knowing the different types of honey bees. Some of them are using 5 to 7 colonies per acre, which I’d never heard of before. They’re big proponents of the idea and say if you increase the number of pollinator visits, it leads to bigger fruit. I’m intrigued by that and would like to experiment. It’s expensive, but they must see a benefit.”

We don’t rely entirely on our hard-working beekeepers; native pollinators such as bumblebees are also valuable to us, and bumblebees will work in wet and/or windy conditions. Bumblebees have other advantages: they work faster, visiting many more flowers per minute. Their large size lets them carry huge pollen loads, allowing longer foraging trips, and achieving better contact with flowers. Larger deposits of pollen promote pollination as well as the formation of more uniform and larger fruit. Perhaps most importantly, bumblebees are naturally attracted to cranberry plants!

Bees – summer 2017

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

“This year we have 980 acres in production,” says manager Mike Haines. “We try to bring in 2 colonies per acre, which means we have approximately 1,960 colonies total this year. We brought in the first bees around the first of the month; the Crimson Queen variety over at Oswego was the earliest bloom. Then a couple days ago we brought in the last of the bees for the Early Blacks at Caley and Red Road as well as the Early Blacks at Sim Place, three weeks after the first colonies came in. It’s been really interesting to see the variation in bloom time.” Timing is important; our team waits until a bog is at about 20 to 40% bloom so the bees have enough to immediately start pollinating.

This is important because cranberries are actually a lot of work for honeybees. On a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm. “At the lake it’s almost time to take them out; there’s not a whole lot of flower left and the fruit is sizing up already,” Mike says. “For both our sake as well as the beekeepers, we want to get the colonies out when they’re done working. Without as much to feed on, it’s more stressful for them and they’ll also try to go elsewhere.”

Research has shown that honeybees are competent at pollinating cranberry flowers as long as the weather remains satisfactory, according to the USDA, and so far, even with the rains this week, they’ve been doing very well!

Bees and pollination – Spring 2016

A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality. One of the more important elements in the Pine Island Integrated Crop Management (PIICM) program is ensuring adequate pollination; flowers that are not visited by bees rarely produce fruit. To this end, we work with several New Jersey beekeepers to temporarily install hives during the bloom period, usually at the end of May/beginning of June depending on the weather.

“We start planning for this in the winter,” says manager Mike Haines. “I started calling beekeepers in February and March and telling them we’ll need X number of hives. We usually place two per acre. Some experts think we could get away with one per acre, Dad knows a Wisconsin grower who will do six or seven . . . but we’re sticking with two. We calculated that meant about 2500 colonies, give or take, which is a lot of bees! So we have to ask a few beekeepers; some are comfortable bringing as many as they can, others are more comfortable with a lower number. This way, everyone’s happy.” He also thinks the cooler spring has had some effects. “This is my first year working with this, but it feels a bit later,” he says. “We tend to start right after fairy ring applications are done while the plants are still in the hook stage switching over to bloom.” He tries to give the beekeepers as much lead time as he can, and calls about once or twice a week to let them know when the next hives need to be placed. “They have a lot to coordinate on their end, so I try to make it easier. On our end, we make a map with places to drop hives; we need places to put them that are out of the way of people and trucks. People get annoyed at me when they have to walk down a ramp directly next to a lot of bees!” Placement order is also based on factors such as variety, when the water came off, and location. “Crimson Queen is our earliest variety and we had bees two weeks ago in there. Early Blacks and Stevens are farthest behind, but most of those will begin by the end of next week. Jeremy [Fenstermaker] and I are combing through the whole farm to make sure we know; we’re a week from needing them here, three days from there . . that helps with the planning.”

The work isn’t done after the bees are in place, either. Team member Tim Bourgeois took a beginner beekeeping class in order to learn more about this fascinating aspect of cranberry production. “It was a really interesting class,” Tim says. “I’d been hearing a lot about the colony collapse disorder, and I really wanted to know more. And since I’m the person who works on treatments and applications, I thought it’d be good to have at least one person on the farm familiar with bees in general; bee care, health, maintenance, things like that. The class focused on beginning beekeeper information: anatomy, food source requirements, hive care and maintenance, bee colony care and maintenance, how to establish a colony, and items related to that. It didn’t cover renting hives, since it’s a beginning course, but it was a lot of really good information.” The plan is for Tim to accompany the state apiary inspector the next time he comes by to check the hives: “I’ll ride along with him and he’ll give me some pointers of thing to look for, make sure hives are healthy and the bees are doing what they’re supposed to.”

Bees and pollination

We talked a little bit last June about how Pine Island works with beekeepers to make sure the bogs are pollinated during the bloom period.

This year, Pine Island rented more hives in order to cover the new acreage we will be harvesting this year. A good fall harvest depends on a successful growing and pollination season, and cranberry growers, like many fruit growers, rely on honeybees and bumble bees to cross pollinate blossoms. Production and yield is directly tied to good pollination and subsequent fruit set. In addition, pollinators are important to native plants, which provide food and cover for numerous wildlife species, as well as helping stabilize the soil and improve water quality.

As it turns out, the weather has not been greatly beneficial for pollination. June 2013 has been the wettest June in recorded history in New Jersey (average rainfall for the month was 9.2 inches), thanks to numerous heavy rainfall events such as the remnants of Tropical Storm Andrea. Another consideration in this year’s pollination effort is a worldwide “colony collapse disorder”, a phenomenon in which worker bees from a beehive or honey bee colony abruptly disappear. According to the USDA Agricultural Research Service, though there have been a number of claims, a cause or causes of CCD have not yet been identified by researchers. In order to protect their bee colonies, growers remain cautious and make sure their IPM best practices are bee-safe.

Fortunately, the wild bee and bumblebee population is up, and bumblebees will work in wet and/or windy conditions. Bumblebees have other advantages: they work faster, visiting many more flowers per minute. Their large size lets them carry huge pollen loads, allowing longer foraging trips, and achieving better contact with flowers. Larger deposits of pollen promote pollination as well as the formation of more uniform and larger fruit. Perhaps most importantly, bumblebees are naturally attracted to cranberry plants.

This is a consideration because on a cranberry plant, the anthers (the pollen-bearing part of the stamen) are shaped very differently from most other flowers, having an opening at the end of the anther, rather than splitting open to expose the pollen. This means getting the pollen out requires extra work by the pollinator. While some believe that honeybees are not as efficient at this task, single visits by pollen foraging honeybees can be enough to elicit fruit, especially in areas where weather during bloom is warm.

As you can see, bees are very important Pine Island team members, willing to do “whatever it takes” to maintain our environment and grow more fruit per acre!