Pollination Security for Fruit and Vegetable Crops in the Northeast
Researchers work to make crop pollination sustainable in the Northeast
Editor:Philip Moore, The University of Tennessee
Last Edited: January 15, 2015
The pollinator security project was initiated in 2011 to address a gap in knowledge with respect to pollinator communities in northeastern cropland.
Reports of declining native pollinators, decreased availability of honey bee rental colonies, and general public misunderstanding led to the creation of this working group to produce a sustainable pollination strategy for stakeholders.
The goal is to contribute to long-term profitability of fruit and vegetable production and the outcome is this webpage along with other farm training and publications to increase knowledge and adoption of practices that protect pollinator communities.
One component of this project is video segments which highlight aspects of fruit or vegetable production in the Northeast.
Part One: Commercial Blueberry Pollination in Maine's Blueberry Barrens
Part 1: Commercial Blueberry Pollination in Maine's Blueberry Barrens
Part 2: Lowbush Blueberry in Maine, Native Plants and Native Bees in a Modern System
Part 3: Pollinator Plantings (The Bee Module) for Maine Lowbush Blueberry
Part 4: Landscape Ecology in Maine's Blueberry Growing Region
Part 5: How to Estimate Native Bee Abundance in the Field
Part 6: Economics of Lowbush Blueberry in Maine
Part 8: Research Topics in Lowbush Blueberry Pollination
Part 9: Pollinator Habitat Enhancement in Cranberries
Part 10: UMass Cranberry Station, Reducing Pesticides, Helping Bees
Part 11: Pollination Requirements of Heritage and Hybrid Cranberries
Specific objectives of this project are to :
1. Determine the contributions of pollinator communities and identify which site characteristics have the greatest influence on pollinator effectiveness in apple, lowbush blueberry, cranberry, and cucurbit.
2. Develop hypotheis-driven model based on factors shown to affect pollination deficits.
3. Quantify pesticide residues in pollen and relate to crop and management strategies, and estimated risk to the bee community.
4. Assess shared parasite load between introduced and native pollinator communities.
5. Analyze the economics of pollination services and determine the value of pollination service.
6. Heighten our understanding of the grower community to understand why farmers accept innovation and to increase adoption of pollinator conservation measures.
7. Facilitate knowledge transfer allowing growers to both assess and improve pollination security.
This content is produced by a group of researchers from across the northeast:
Anne Averil, The University of Massachusetts
Frank Drummond, The University of Maine
Kimberly Stoner, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Bryan Danforth, Cornell University
John Burand, The University of Massachusetts
Brian Eitzer, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Aaron Hoshide, The University of Maine
Cyndy Loftin, The University of Maine
Tom Stevens, The University of Massachusetts
John Skinner, The University of Tennessee
Dave Yarborough, The University of Maine
Tracy Zarrillo, The Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station
Kalyn Bickerman, The University of Maine
Eric Asare, The University of Maine
Shannon Chapin, The University of Maine
Eric Venturini, The University of Maine
Sam Hanes, The University of Maine
Kourtney Collum, The University of Maine
Michael Wilson, The University of Tennessee
Philip Moore, The University of Tennessee
Integrated Crop Pollination
Take an integrated approach to crop pollination
Specialty crop growers depend on pollinators to ensure pollination and to achieve marketable yields. Integrated crop pollination is an integrative approach to pollination management that can help specialty crop growers receive reliable, economical crop pollination. There are two main components to integrated crop pollination: (1) diversifying crop pollination strategies (e.g. using a combination of honey bees, alternative managed bees and/or wild bees) and (2) using farm practices that support pollinators. Pollinators require food (pollen and nectar), nesting habitat, and a safe environment protected from pesticide exposure. Farmers can support pollinators by using practices that provide these habitat requirements. Learn more about integrated crop pollination by watching this video.
Video produced by Emily May (Xerces Society) for the Integrated Crop Pollination Project. The Integrated Crop Pollination Project is supported by the USDA-NIFA Specialty Crop Research Initiative Coordinated Agricultural Project (Award #2012-51181-20105).
Pollination and Protecting Pollinators
Pollination in agriculture and why it matters.
Honey bees are the most important pollinator in the United States and worldwide. Pollination is essential and a critically important process in producing much of the food we eat. Without pollinators, such as the honey bee, we would have few fruits, vegetables, nuts and many other types of food we depend upon. This 52-minute video gives an overview of the pollination process, the value of bees and the benefit humans gain from this relationship. It also provides insight into the complexity and challenges of the beekeeping industry. Most importantly, it presents a balanced perspective on the many factors associated with the decline of honey bees. The video concludes with an overview on some of the research currently underway at Washington State University in support of honey bee health and things we all can do to help bees and other pollinators.
Bee Health Contents
- Honey Bee Biology
- Africanized Bees
- Small Hive Beetle
- Varroa Mites
- Queen Quality
- First Lessons in Beekeeping Series
- Basic Beekeeping Techniques
- Advanced Field and Lab Techniques
- Beekeeping Equipment
- Queen Rearing and Bee Breeding
- Colony Losses in the USA
- Managed Pollinator CAP
- Pollination Security of Northeastern Crops
- Citizen Science
- Honey Bee Lab and Organization Links
- A Year in the Life of an Apiary
- Pollination Security in the Northeast
- Pollination and Protecting Pollinators
- Integrated Crop Pollination
- Bee Pest and Disease Videos
- Webinars and Seminars
Frequently Asked Questions
Two "expert" bee researchers ponder a quandary: "well, what do you think?" Credit: Zach Huang
Beekeepers are almost by definition curious individuals. The nature of beekeeping, as with any environmental relationship, is complex. Even some of the most experienced beekeepers are confounded by the mysteries of a bee hive. That is what makes honey bee research a rewarding and never-ending journey.
Below is a list of commonly asked questions and links to the best answer at the time it was asked. As more information becomes available, perceptions shift, and may render a formerly correct answer invalid. The following list is only a starting point and one should always seek a second opinion on any difficult or important subject. Local knowledge is especially important as geographical variables cannot be resolved in this universal forum. If your question is not listed below, consider using the Ask an Expert function.
- Are there plants that produce nectar that is poisonous to either honey bees or humans?
- How can bees make honey from nectar that is poisonous to them?
- What is the life cycle of the bumble bee?
- How can farmers, gardeners, and applicators reduce risks of honey bee injury from pesticide application?
- What steps can beekeepers take to protect their colonies from pesticide injury?
- How can I tell the difference between small hive beetle larvae and wax moth larvae?
- What are wax moths and what kind of damage do they make in a hive?
- How many bee hives do I need to pollinate a crop?
- What causes purple brood?
- What is a "pollen bee" or a "non-apis" bee?
- Has research been done on comparing 5.4 mm comb cell size with 4.9 mm?
- What are small hive beetles and where did they come from?
- What is the best way to introduce a queen into a colony?
- What plants in my vegetable garden attract or need bees?
- What are some suggestions for keeping bears out of active beehives?
- What is causing the decline of honey bee populations?
- What is a toxic reaction to bee stings?
- What is the difference between a normal reaction to a honey bee sting and an allergic abnormal reaction?
- How long do worker honey bees live?
- Which pesticide formulations are least hazardous to honey bees?
- How many times does a queen honey bee mate?
- The drone has no father but has a grandfather. How is that?
- What crops do not require honey bee pollination?
- Why is honey different colors?
- I have bees in my house. How can I get rid of them without killing them?
- I have honey bees in a tree. Can I remove them and keep the bees?
- Will honey bee swarms in my yard move into a hole in the wall of my house?
- What is the basic life cycle of the fungus Ascosphaera apis that causes chalkbrood disease in honey bees colonies?
- Why do newly installed packages of bees seem to abscond more than well-established hives?
- How do honey bees use pheromones to communicate?
- How are queen bees raised and mated?
- Can a honey bee be born without the aid of a drone?
- Does honey have nutritional value?
- If honey is crystallized (solid) has it gone bad?
- What is Nosema disease?
- How do I know whether my bees have Nosema disease?
- How is Nosema disease treated?
- How do honey bees make wax?
- What are some ways to reduce the population of Varroa mites in honey bee colonies, without the use of pesticides?
- What is raw honey?
What is raw honey?
It is assumed that raw honey is neither heated nor filtered. As there is no official or legal definition of raw honey, it is possible that a product labeled raw honey may have been heated or filtered. - Nancy Ostiguy, Pennsylvania State University
What are some ways to reduce the population of Varroa mites in honey bee colonies, without the use of pesticides?
Mite-resistant Bees. In response to development of resistance to chemical miticides, and in order to provide more sustainable mite management, honey bees have been selectively bred for resistance to, or tolerance of, Varroa. There are two known mechanisms of resistance: hygienic behavior and suppression of mite reproduction (SMR). Hygiene is the removal of diseased (including mite-parasitized) brood by workers; SMR is the reduction in reproduction of female mites within brood cells. Types of resistant queens include; Minnesota Hygienic, the Russian and the SMR. The Minnesota Hygienic, as the name implies, has been selectively bred to be hygienic against diseases such as American Foulbrood and against mite parasitism. Russian bees, originated from far-eastern Russia, where developed by the USDA, and are resistant to Varroa. SMR bees, also developed by the USDA, reduce Varroa numbers by interfering with reproduction, although host factors affecting mite reproduction are not well understood. Open Bottom Boards. The use of open bottom boards takes advantage of the natural fall of Varroa from the colony to reduce mite numbers by exclusion. Mites continually fall from bees and when exiting capped cells. Many fall to the bottom board where they are likely to re-attach to bees. But if the floor of the bottom board is screened rather than solid, the bees will fall to the ground below where they perish. Open bottom boards have been shown to reduce Varroa numbers by about 15%. And they can enhance the performance of treatments by removing mites that fall from bees during a treatment, but are not killed directly by the treatment. Removal of Drone Brood. The preference of Varroa for drone brood can be used to help delay buildup of mite populations. Wax drone brood foundation, which encourages bees to build larger cells and the queen to lay drone eggs, can be purchased, or empty frames with a starter strip can be given to colonies during drone rearing season. After capping, the entire frame can be discarded, or the brood can be destroyed (with a capping scratcher or by freezing) and the frame can be used again. Drone brood foundation should be inserted in early spring within or directly next to the brood cluster and it must be removed before drones begin emerging. Removing naturally occurring drone brood may not be practical because it is usually scattered throughout the cluster and is not numerous enough to affect Varroa numbers if removed. Apiary Isolation. Even if you are diligent about managing your colonies, they can be re-infested if Varroa-infested colonies are located nearby. Workers with mites can “drift” to other colonies; and workers from stronger colonies can rob weak, mite-infested colonies, and bring Varroa back with them. The greater the distance between apiaries, the less likely re-infestation will occur. This tactic is not always feasible because worker bees may fly several miles from their colony when foraging, and, of course, you probably will have no influence on the management of your neighbor’s colonies. Integrated Management. Reliance on traditional chemical mite treatments may be reduced by using a combination of management tactics. For example, combining resistant bees and open bottom boards may help to maintain Varroa below damaging levels and thereby reduce the number of treatments required. Perhaps the most important component of an integrated management program for Varroa is monitoring. Before development of resistance to Apistan™, few beekeepers considered monitoring mite populations because they knew this product would provide control. Now control is not certain, and monitoring has become a necessity. At the very least, monitoring should be conducted after treating to determine treatment effectiveness. When using control tactics which require more time to affect Varroa numbers, such as open bottom boards or resistant bees, monitoring should be conducted about once a month over the course of a season. Regardless of your management program or mite monitoring schedule, colonies should be sampled for Varroa in late August so that if a treatment is necessary, it can be applied and affect mite numbers before cold weather sets in. -John Skinner, University of Tennessee
How do honey bees make wax?
Bees produce the beeswax used in the construction of their combs from the four pair of wax glands located on the underside of the abdomen. These glands are most highly developed and active in bees 10-18 days old. The wax appears in small, irregular oval flakes or scales that project between the overlapped portions of the last four abdominal segments. Wax can be secreted only at relatively high temperatures and after a large intake of honey or nectar. -John Skinner, University of Tennessee
How is Nosema disease treated?
Nosema disease can be treated successfully with Fumigillin (trade name Fumidil). Colonies are usually treated in the fall, spring, or both. Follow the directions on the label and feed the correct dosage in 50% sugar syrup (1:1 sugar:water, with antibiotic dissolved in 5-10 ml warm water then mixed into the syrup) in the spring, 66% in the fall. Nosema ceranae also responds to Fumidil treatment, but may require a higher dosage. The antibiotic does not kill the spores, but disrupts vegetative reproduction of the pathogen inside the host cells. Fumidil will not, therefore, completely remove the spore source if colonies are heavily infected because both honey and beeswax can be a reservoir for Nosema spores. - Zachary Huang, Michigan State University
How do I know whether my bees have Nosema disease?
The only way to be sure is to examine bees by microscope. A sample of bees is macerated in a small amount of water, and then a drop of the liquid is examined on a microscope slide at 400 power. Spores appear as ovals, about 3 by 5 microns. One outward indication of Nosema is brown spots (fecal material) on the outside or inside of a hive. The inner cover or top bars can be soiled with feces in a hive that carries Nosema ceranae. However, a hive heavily infested with Nosema ceranae may appear normal otherwise. - Tom Webster, Kentucky State University
What is Nosema disease?
Nosema disease in honey bees is caused by two species of pathogens, Nosema apis and Nosema ceranae. Nosema apis was the only known microsporidian honey bee pathogen until 1996, when a second species, Nosema ceranae, was identified from the Asian honey bee. Nosema ceranae appears to be the dominant species in the European honey bee (Apis mellifera) in many parts of the world, including in Europe and the United States. Both of these pathogens cause chronic deleterious effects in the honey bee host. - Lee Solter, University of Illinois
If honey becomes crystallized (solid) has it gone ‘bad’?
Honey does not spoil. Crystallized honey is caused by the glucose in liquid honey becoming a solid. Honey can be consumed in its crystallized form or you can warm the honey to dissolve the crystals by placing the jar in warm water and stirring until the crystals disappear. Do not boil or scorch the honey. - Nancy Ostiguy, Pennsylvania State University
Does honey have nutritional value?
Honey consists primarily of glucose and fructose (both are carbohydrates) and 17-18% water. Unlike other sweeteners, honey has trace vitamins and minerals including calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, pantothenic acid, phosphorus, potassium, riboflavin and zinc. Antioxidants are also found in honey. Flavanoids and phenolic acids found in honey act as antioxidants scavenging and eliminating free radicals. Darker honeys tend to have higher quantities of antioxidants. Honey also makes an effective antimicrobial agent for treating sore throats and other bacterial infections. - Nancy Ostiguy, Pennsylvania State University
Can a honey bee be born without the aid of a drone?
Yes and no. A drone's (male bee) purpose is to mate with a queen (female reproductive bee). All other colony activities are performed by worker bees (female bees). To discuss how a bee is born, we can start with when the egg is laid. Generally speaking, if the queen fertilizes this egg with sperm, it will become a worker bee, or another queen. If she does not fertilize the egg, it will become a drone (male). The care and feeding of the larvae that hatches from these eggs are done by worker bees. So you see, in some ways the drone is not required for another drone bee to be born, since sperm is not required for drone bees. Drones are instead required to provide the sperm to fertilize female bees (resulting in genetic recombination), so clearly they are necessary for the species to survive, which is of course required for any honey bee to be born. -Michael Wilson, University of Tennessee
How are queen bees raised and mated?
There are many methods of raising queen bees, but the central tenant of queen production is that a fertilized egg may be reared into a queen or worker depending on the food it receives as a larva. In general, a beekeeper specializing in queen production sets up special colonies (e.g., “starter” colonies) that are queenless. Young larvae are transferred, or “grafted,” from selected breeder colonies into man-made queen cell cups. The grafted larvae are placed into the starter colony where the queenless workers feed the queen-destined larvae large amounts of royal jelly. The developing queen larvae may later be transferred to a “finishing” colony where the workers continue to feed and incubate the developing queens, or in some operations, the larvae are maintained throughout development in the starter colony. In all cases, the queens are removed from the colony a day or two before they are due to emerge, or about 10 days after the larvae were grafted into queen cups. Each queen cell is introduced individually into a small, queenless colony called a “mating nuc”. About 5-7 days after the queen emerges from her cell, she takes mating flight(s) over one or sometimes two afternoons and mates with 10-20 drones in a “drone congregation area.” She returns to her mating nuc and after several more days, begins to lay fertilized eggs. When the beekeeper sees eggs and larvae from the newly mated queen, about 2 weeks after the cell was introduced into the mating nuc, the queen is caged and sold. - Marla Spivak, University of Minnesota
Why do newly installed packages of bees seem to abscond more than well-established hives?
The difference between a newly installed package of bees and an established hive has to do with the comb (an established have has drawn the comb out and has stores and brood) and the existence of brood in an established hive. Between the drawn comb and the presence of brood bees are very likely to stay put. Installing a package is usually pretty simple and successful. NC State Cooperative Extension has a series of Beekeeping Notes, one of which is on "How to Install a Package of Bees." You can find all the information notes at www.cals.ncsu.edu/entomology/apiculture and clicking on "Extension," then "Beekeeping Notes," and then scrolling down to the particular note of interest. - Bill Skelton, North Carolina State University
What is the basic life cycle of the fungus, Ascosphaera apis that causes chalkbrood disease in honey bee colonies?
Spores of the fungus are ingested with the honey bee larval food. Larvae are most susceptible if they ingest spores when they are 3 to 4 days old and then are chilled briefly 2 days later, immediately after they are sealed in their cells to pupate. The spores germinate in the hind gut of the bee larva, but mycelial (vegetative) growth is arrested until the larva is sealed in its cell. At this stage, the larva is about 6 or 7 days old. The mycelial elements break out through the gut wall and invade the larval tissues until the entire larva is overcome. This generally requires from 2 to 3 days. Dead larvae are chalky white and usually covered with filaments (mycelia) that have a fluffy, cotton-like appearance. These mummified larvae may be mottled with brown or black spots, especially on the ventral sides, due to the presence of spore cysts or fruiting bodies of the fungus. Larvae that have been dead for a long time may become completely black as these fruiting bodies fully mature. Spores form only when there are 2 different strains (+ and -) of mycelia present and in contact with each other. - Clarence Collison, Mississippi State University
Will honey bee swarms in my yard move into a hole in the wall of my house?
Maybe, especially if bees have occupied the wall before. Bees are attracted by the odor of the other bees. You can prevent their entry by sealing outside openings 3/8th of an inch or larger with caulking or window screen. If the bees enter your wall, they are difficult to remove.
What crops do not require honey bee pollination?
Honey bees improve, or supplement, pollination for most plants they visit. However, honey bees are considered negligible pollinators for the following crops: soybean, peach, field beans, snap beans, tomato, corn, cotton, peanuts, pecans, canola, and alfalfa. In cases like these, the plant is either independent of insect pollination in general or dependent on other pollinators. - Keith Delaplane, University of Georgia
The drone has no father but has a grandfather. How is that?
The queen and workers are female bees with a diploid set of chromosomes. The drones are male with a haploid set of chromosomes. To get a worker, the queen must add sperm to the egg. There must be a male to provide that sperm. To get a male, she does nothing but deposit the egg in a cell. No sperm in needed from a male bee. - Ed Beary
Which pesticide formulations are least hazardous to honey bees?
Different formulations of the same insecticide often vary considerably in their toxicity to bees. Granular insecticides generally are not hazardous to honey bees. Dust formulations (seldom used today on commercial field crops) are typically more hazardous than emulsifiable concentrates because they adhere to the bee's body hairs and are carried back to the beehive. Wettable powder and flowable formulations essentially dry to a dust-like form which foragers can carry to the hives. Likewise, microencapsulated insecticides can be collected by foragers along with pollen and carried back to the beehive. When honey bees are exposed to insecticides that kill foraging bees, honey production is reduced but colonies recover as young bees emerge. Exposure to dust, wettable powder, flowable, and microencapsulated formulations of insecticides can cause severe losses of both foraging bees and hive bees. In the worst cases, toxins may remain active in the hive for several months and prevent colonies from recovering from the injury. - Marion Ellis, University of Nebraska
What are some good flowering plants to put near a vegetable garden to attract bees to help with pollination?
Any flowering, pollen-producing plant will attract bees, including your vegetables. Bees also need a source of water, so the addition of a bird bath or something similar can help attract them. The only caution is that some of the flowering annuals will reseed themselves vigorously and can become "weeds" in subsequent gardens.
What are wax moths and what kind of damage do they make in a beehive?
There are two species of wax moth that cause damage to honey bee colonies by consuming beeswax as their larvae develop and in the process of making a pupal cocoon they score the wooden frames that hold the wax combs, weakening the wood. Damage becomes obvious as they produce large quantities of gray-white webbing and dark fecal material as they feed. The larger of the two species (3/4 inch long gray-brown adult), the greater wax moth, Gallaria melonella causes more damage and has a wider distribution while the lesser wax moth, Achroia grisella is more limited to warmer southern states. Wax moths are not a cause of colony death, they come in later after some other factor/malady has reduced the population of honey bees. Strong colonies of honey bees with large worker population can reduce numbers of wax moth to a level where they cause little damage. - John Skinner, University of Tennessee
How can honey bees produce honey from nectar that is toxic to them?
Some plants produce nectar that is poisonous to bees. It is difficult to understand how honey bees can produce honey from this toxic nectar. The effect on the bee is probably dose related at an individual as well as a colony level. The bee must consume a minimum amount of the toxin before it is affected. If the bee is visiting other non-toxic plants before returning to the colony, the toxin from the poisonous nectar may be diluted. Another factor may be the time it takes the toxin to act. The bee may eventually succumb but not before it brings the toxic nectar back to the colony. At the colony, a toxic nectar could be mixed with non toxic nectar, diluting the toxin in the honey. For a water soluble toxin, as the nectar is processed and water removed to make honey, the concentration of the toxin may increase to a level that may cause a response. -John Skinner, University of Tennessee
High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health
Citation: Mullin CA, Frazier M, Frazier JL, Ashcraft S, Simonds R, et al. 2010 High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health. PLoS ONE 5(3): e9754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0009754
Recent declines in honey bees for crop pollination threaten fruit, nut, vegetable and seed production in the United States. A broad survey of pesticide residues was conducted on samples from migratory and other beekeepers across 23 states, one Canadian province and several agricultural cropping systems during the 2007–08 growing seasons.
We have used LC/MS-MS and GC/MS to analyze bees and hive matrices for pesticide residues utilizing a modified QuEChERS method. We have found 121 different pesticides and metabolites within 887 wax, pollen, bee and associated hive samples. Almost 60% of the 259 wax and 350 pollen samples contained at least one systemic pesticide, and over 47% had both in-hive acaricides fluvalinate and coumaphos, and chlorothalonil, a widely-used fungicide. In bee pollen were found chlorothalonil at levels up to 99 ppm and the insecticides aldicarb, carbaryl, chlorpyrifos and imidacloprid, fungicides boscalid, captan and myclobutanil, and herbicide pendimethalin at 1 ppm levels. Almost all comb and foundation wax samples (98%) were contaminated with up to 204 and 94 ppm, respectively, of fluvalinate and coumaphos, and lower amounts of amitraz degradates and chlorothalonil, with an average of 6 pesticide detections per sample and a high of 39. There were fewer pesticides found in adults and brood except for those linked with bee kills by permethrin (20 ppm) and fipronil (3.1 ppm).
The 98 pesticides and metabolites detected in mixtures up to 214 ppm in bee pollen alone represents a remarkably high level for toxicants in the brood and adult food of this primary pollinator. This represents over half of the maximum individual pesticide incidences ever reported for apiaries. While exposure to many of these neurotoxicants elicits acute and sublethal reductions in honey bee fitness, the effects of these materials in combinations and their direct association with CCD or declining bee health remains to be determined.