|Pollinating Hybrid Canola Pollinating Hybrid Canola Pollinating...|
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June 1998: Moving out at 5 AM. These hives were loaded by different crews after dusk the previous night, and parked until daybreak when the new shift came in to drive them to the pollination yards. Hive pickup takes place over a 60 mile radius from our honey house. The delivery to pollination is about 150 miles and takes about eight hours to complete -- if all goes well.
At night and in early morning most bees stay nicely in the hives. The hives must, however, be delivered to their new sites by about 8:30 AM. After about 8:30 it becomes impossible to keep the bees on the truck without nets; they want to fly out and will become lost along the way. We sometimes use nets, but they are difficult to apply and the bees do come out and cluster on the net if the weather is warm and sunny. Moving in hot summer daytime with nets is not a good way to do things, if night or rainy weather moving is possible.
Each truck and trailer carries 80 hives in four standard boxes. This spring we had an early flow and the hives were heavy, limiting the size of our loads.
This is the first group of forty hives unloaded at one site. When these were delivered, the thirds were light and the frames rattled around a bit. By the end of the week all our hives were delivered in four standards. And they were heavy. We moved off a good fast flow in our home area.
Not all pollinators provided such strong hives. I am told that some delivered their bees in two boxes and only added a third during the month or so of pollination. They also did not need to remove any honey during that time, although, of necessity, we supered up to 5 or 7 boxes high at one point and had to remove honey to get them back down to a size we could move.
The canola produces a nice white honey in reasonable quantities. However, because of the number of bees on each acre -- honey bees and also leafcutters -- honey crops are not a large as in normal beekeeping practice. We are uncertain how much honey was produced on the canola pollination, since we toted a fair amount down with us when we brought the bees, however we found that when we had pulled honey at the end of July and were ready to return home we had removed an average of 40 pounds net per hive.
Hybrid canola is grown in rows (bays) with the 'females' in one row, and the 'males' in adjacent rows. No hybrid canola would be produced without bees. After pollination is complete, the 'male' rows are mowed out, since they do not produce the desired type of seed.
The orange tents are shelters for alfalfa leaf cutter bees which share the task of pollinating this particular field. Another group of our honeybee hives is visible across the field. Fields are stocked with anywhere from 1-1/2 to 3 hives per acre of crop, depending on factors such as whether the leafcutters are used too.
Leafcutters here were applied at a rate of about 2 gallons per acre, I was told, and the recovery for the leafcutter beekeeper was only about 30%. The leafcutter bees tend to pollinate very close to their tents and apparently also do not work well if the weather is at all cool.
The canola at all our locations was sprayed with DecisŪ at the end of bloom due to lygus bug. The aerial applicators were very careful to avoid the beehives - leaving a 200m distance from the hives - in most locations and were also careful to spray just before dark. We noticed very little loss, except where the hives were right in the crop, and even there it was very light. I am told that Decis is a low residue product and loses its hazard to bees overnight.
Breakdowns were a common occurrence due to the amount of work and night-time operation. here Steve and James change a flat for the second -- or is it the third time? -- on a forklift. In the daytime!
Mechanical failures ranged from bent bumpers, damaged while being towed out of irrigation mud holes, to broken U-joints. We had several flats and also had one truck engine require a re-build due to hard service and stressful night-time working conditions.
Having said that, it was beautiful out there in the chest high crops at 2 AM when the moon was full. We all had a pride in doing an important job well. The farmers were most appreciative and co-operative. They never whimpered when phoned at 3 or 4 in the morning to pull us out of a hole, and showed up promptly with a tractor when needed.
The folks at AgrEvo were always pleasant and positive, and willing to meet us anywhere, anytime if we needed them. A particular thank-you to Rob Wauters who was our 'angel'. He planned the locations for us, guided our trucks into the sites, and made sure everything was AOK at all times.
Although pollination was a tough job -- probably the toughest job I've done -- we got through it and getting ready for another year with some eagerness. We've added another forklift and lots more trucks, and made some changes in our management to ensure that things go even better next time.