An astute reader will notice that I tend to write a lot about pollination. It’s no coincidence—our product, called Verifli, offers a faster way for growers and beekeepers to evaluate hive strength and determine pollination value.
You might be wondering, “if Verifli is so great at measuring hive strength, how come beekeepers don’t use it outside of pollination?” Well, although colony size is a direct measure of pollination output, when the bees aren’t working a pollination job, beekeepers look for other hive health indicators that can be found well before colony population begins to decline. Making hive management decisions based on colony size alone is like making personal health decisions based on weight alone—it’s important to consider height, muscle mass and other factors.
Even though our product and this blog is geared towards pollination, we get lots of questions from growers about what bees and beekeepers are up to during the rest of the year. Here’s a glimpse at what beekeepers deal with this time of year.
Life on the road
With some exceptions, hives operated by commercial beekeepers almost never spend the entire year in one location. Many beekeepers transport their hives several times in a season, chasing pollination events and nectar flows.
With pollination, beekeepers get paid for placing a certain amount of hives in a certain location for a certain period of time. Nectar flows aren’t as simple. It’s up to the beekeeper to determine when and where a nectar flow will occur as well as when and where to place hives and how many to place. If hives are placed too early, the bees will need supplemental feeding. If too many hives are placed, the nectar sources will dry up quickly.
Beekeepers must also consider how far they’re willing to travel for a nectar flow. If it’s a 6-hour drive from HQ, the beekeeper may need to rent a motel each time they visit the hives. These expenses add up fast, and beekeepers must decide if the payoff is worth the added cost.
After crop pollination
As autumn approaches, most crops have already been pollinated for the season. Without any growers paying to house the hives, beekeepers must find a low-cost place for them to stay. Areas with a variety of nectar and pollen sources are ideal for keeping costs low. These areas serve other important purposes, like allowing the bees to recover from stressful pollination environments and producing surplus honey that can be harvested and sold.
Finding untapped forage locations within a reasonable drive is a challenge that’s becoming more difficult each year. Protected forests offer an excellent variety of nutrition sources free from agricultural pesticides. But even in the so-called “Beehive State,” some believe that protected lands belong to native pollinators, not honeybees. In Utah, environmental groups are battling to block beekeeper Darren Cox from placing hives on protected land.
If successful, this could set a dangerous precedent for beekeepers nationwide who place hives on protected lands. Though I agree that maintaining native pollinator habitats is critical, I feel the anger of these environmentalists is misplaced. Honeybees aren’t the enemy of pollinator habitats. In fact, beekeepers could be a powerful ally in the fight to restore and expand pollinator habitats.
Beekeeping today is much more involved than simply maintaining healthy bees, and site selection is just one piece of the puzzle. Beekeepers with a network of good sites have a major advantage over those who are just starting out. The more sites you have, the more bees you can raise. At the end of the day, commercial beekeepers are still business owners, and operating in the black is just as important as keeping healthy bees.