Bees, Part II: Bees in a GreenhouseLee Flaherty '12 | June 24, 2010
The defining property of a greenhouse, with regard to pollination, is the lack of wind. Other properties (design, greenhouse materials, crops involved, and temperature) are important, but none dictate the need for pollination more than the lack of a breeze. What insect, avian, and mammalian pollinators cannot do, the wind does; therefore, the pollination plan in a greenhouse is that much more crucial.
The question here is, what to do for pollination? Bees are a natural response to this question, and indeed, bees are used. However, Honeybees are not appropriate for two main reasons: 1) aggression, and 2) inefficient pollination methods. Honeybees can be aggressive, especially the increasingly common Africanized varieties. While generally blasé, their reaction to provocation is like a string of decorative lights: if one goes out, they all go out. The latent and ever-present threat makes honeybees in a greenhouse a liability more than a boon. Also, unlike some other varieties of bee, honeybees do not vibrate their flight muscles while on flowers; this makes the honeybee less effective at shaking loose pollen both onto themselves from the anthers, and off of themselves into stamen. Their inability to do this buzz pollination makes honeybees less effective than some other bees.
Now we must ask, what bee to use? Most greenhouse and hydroponic growers today use bumblebees, due to the bee’s placid disposition, the bee’s ability to buzz pollinate, and the facility with which bumblebees may be raised, maintained, and replaced. While there are other appropriate varieties of bee, these varieties are largely experimental or untried. Yet other greenhouse growers use human-developed methods of pollination, which in commercial greenhouse operations overwhelmingly means a device that looks and operates much like an electric toothbrush with a fuzzy brush head. In situations where labor is not at a premium (or the crop is very expensive, or bumbles are illegal), it can be cheaper to eschew the bumbles and release the inner bee. For example, a challenge inherent to working in Australia is that bumblebees do not exist on the mainland and are banned from import.
Okay, so I’ve gone over what makes an appropriate pollinator in the greenhouse, and what is most commonly used the world over as well as in Australia. However, I am not working at a unique greenhouse to do what is tried and true. I think there is potential in other bees, one of which could be applied to the Australian greenhouse, and the other of which uniquely fits the greenhouse conditions very well. The latter I shall keep to myself, as that bee is not available in Australia and my conditions for its use are original enough to warrant a tactful silence. The former, however, I shall discuss, and it is none other than the Australian blue-banded bee.
You know the deal. No pictures, no excessive writing. “Bees, Part III: Blue-Banded Bees” will be the next chapter in this installation. I’m still waiting on some information there, so it may be a while before I present that topic.