From NJ Commercial Vegetable Production Recommendations
Method 1: Inspect Hives
This method is the most time-consuming, but also the most accurate. Colonies used for springtime pollination should have at least:
- a laying queen
- one and one-half or two stories (hive bodies or boxes)
- four to six frames of brood
- enough adult bees to cover six to eight frames
These are minimum requirements; stronger colonies with larger populations make superior pollination units and may command a higher price. As these stronger colonies are opened, bees will “boil out” or cover the tops of the frames. When smoked, however, the bees move down onto the frames and may not cover the frame tops. In this case, the frames themselves should be covered with bees. Note that there will be some variability in the quality of the colonies you rent. As a general rule, a group of colonies where 10 percent fall below the minimum standard is acceptable if 10 percent are also above the minimum standard. Also, for a variety of reasons, some colonies may become queenless for a time; however, if these colonies meet all the other minimum requirements they still will be effective pollination units.
You can request hives to be inspected. In Pennsylvania, The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture Apiary Inspection Service runs a hive evaluation program for colonies used for pollination. Requests may be made by either the grower or the beekeeper and should be arranged through the state apiarist at the PDA Bureau of Plant Industry, 2301 North Cameron Street, Harrisburg, PA 17110; telephone 717-772-5225. Requests should be made as early as possible to facilitate scheduling. If an evaluation is requested by the grower, the beekeeper will be informed that a request has been made. Colonies are inspected to determine the colony size (number of supers), the presence of a laying queen, the number of frames of brood and adult bees, and the presence of disease and parasites. At least 10 percent of the colonies in an apiary, or a minimum of five colonies, are selected at random for inspection. Inspected colonies are identified by sticker. If selected colonies are banded or stapled, these are not refastened by the inspector. A copy of the evaluation report is given to both the grower and the beekeeper.
Method 2: Assess Traffic at Hive Entrance
This method is less time- consuming but also less accurate. On a warm (70 to 80˚F), calm day between 11 AM and 3 PM, bee traffic at hive entrances should be heavy. During a one-minute observation period, strong colonies should have 50 to 100 or more bees arriving and leaving the hive. Bees also should be seen arriving with pollen pellets on their back legs. In weak colonies, less than 40 bees will be seen arriving and leaving per minute. Colonies that are being used for summer pollination should have heavier traffic at the hive entrance.
Another crude way to assess colony strength is to observe entrances when temperatures are cool (between 55 and 60˚F). In strong colonies, flights will be observed when temperatures are between 55 and 60°F, but in weaker colonies bees rarely fly when temperatures are below 60°F. Honeybees very rarely fly when the temperature is below 55°F.
Method 3: Assess Bee Density on the Crop
This method allows you to assess the contribution of feral or other honeybee colonies in the area in addition to rented bees. If you are using rented colonies, however, this method tells you little about the quality of the bees. We suggest that if you use this technique and find that the number of bees on the crop is low, you then use options (1) or (2) to assess colony strength before renting additional bees.
The publications listed below are available on the MAAREC Website.
- Beekeeping Basics
- Beekeeping Topics: Sources of Bees for Pollination in Pennsylvania, Bees and Insecticides, Pollination Contracts, Basic, Biology and Management of the Japanese Hornfaced Bee
US distributors of “Fruit Boost” that was recommended in the Pollination for attracting bees section are located in the Pacific Northwest. For more information, contact Phero Tech, Inc., 7572 Progress Way, RR 5, Delta, British Columbia, Canada V4G 1E9; phone: 604-940-9944; fax: 604-940-9433.
Other sources of information for bee guides in your area see the websites listed below: