- Fruits: apples
- Animals: bees
- Animal Products: honey
- Animal Production: animal protection and health, feed/forage
- Crop Production: beekeeping, pollination, pollinator habitat, pollinator health
- Education and Training: farmer to farmer, on-farm/ranch research
- Natural Resources/Environment: habitat enhancement
- Production Systems: holistic management
This project will investigate two related challenges to sustainable beekeeping: pollination techniques that support small-scale agriculture and the authentication of varietal honey.
Traditional large-scale honey bee pollination relies heavily on monoculture, which eliminates all competing flora. However, monoculture prohibits environmental diversity, reducing the honey bees’ traditional diet of varied flora. Small-scale farmers, on the other hand, farm on agriculturally diverse landscapes, yet also depend on targeted crop pollination by honey bees for better set and yield.
Beekeepers often rely on color to estimate a honey’s pollen source. Upon analysis many honeys thought to be varietal actually contain a mix of pollen types. Eric Mader of the Xerces Society observes that bees can fly up to three miles searching for nectar and pollen sources. He recommends that beekeepers learn to “think like a bee” to understand the attractive qualities of floral sources.
Our research will seek to think like a bee to acquire insights into how honey bees might be encouraged to sustainably visit desired nectar sources on small-scale farms. This research will span two seasons and will investigate pollination techniques that sustain small-scale diversity while providing beekeepers with a method for authenticating varietal honey.
We will attempt to direct honey bees to at least ten crops or forest plants and analyze the honeys to test our success. Our bees will pollinate specific crops of different types and sizes, ranging from forest groves of wild trees (black locust) to managed farm crops (tree fruits, berries, and cover crops) of diverse sizes. We will place the hives in and near the desired nectar sources within two days of the first bloom. (This prevents the bees from getting fixated on a competing nectar source before the target source blooms.) We hope to uncover optimum methods for crop pollination and varietal honey production by experimenting with variables such as placement of hives in and near crops and bee variety (Russian vs. Italian). We will measure the success of our trials by collecting pollen samples from the target blooms and surrounding flora and comparing the samples to types and amounts of pollen found in the corresponding honey. A varietal honey will be high in the target pollen, reflecting desired honey bee pollination.
By exploring methods for maintaining agricultural diversity while efficiently and effectively pollinating specific crops within a diverse environment of competing pollen and nectar sources, we will contribute to sustainably managed pollination of farm crops by honey bees as well as the production of varietal honeys. The methods we develop in this project will result in a Best Practices Guide for the sustainable production of varietal honey resulting in improved economic return for small-scale beekeepers.
Project objectives from proposal:
- Contribute to sustainably managed pollination of farm crops by honey bees as well as the production of varietal honeys by exploring methods for maintaining agricultural diversity while efficiently and effectively pollinating specific crops within a diverse environment of competing pollen and nectar sources.
- Develop methods to monitor nectar flows and authenticate honey, and from them create a Best Practices Guide for the sustainable production of varietal honey, resulting in improved economic return for small-scale beekeepers.