The arrival of summer reminds us that many of the flowers we depend on to give us fruits or vegetables depend on the honeybee. Among the fruit trees that are largely pollinated by bees are apple, peach, plum, cherry and pear. Blackberries and blueberries are also largely dependent on bees for production.
The work of bees extends to many vegetable crops that include: squash, cantaloupe, watermelon, cucumber, green bean and lima bean. In short, many types of food we depend on for life are pollinated by bees.
Even for crops that are largely self-pollinating, bees may have some influence. Some of these include tomato and pepper. Workers have found that cross-pollination of these crops by bees may increase fruit set in some varieties. The work of bees goes far beyond horticultural plants and influences production of seeds in alfalfa, clover, cotton, soybean and sunflower.
Although it has not been definitely determined, it is believed that one bee can pollinate 5,000 flowers per day per tree. Bees work best when temperatures are above 65 degrees. Incomplete pollination in fruit trees results in excessive fruit drop or even poorly developed fruit that may eventually drop off. Only bees can do an adequate job of carrying pollen from one tree to another. (Example: apple trees must be cross-pollinated.) Wind is the primary pollinator for food crops such as wheat, rice, corn, sorghum and other grains. Bees are the most important pollinators of horticultural crops. Many farmers and gardeners have noticed a marked decrease in honeybees over the past few years.
The reason for the decrease is not fully understood. To reduce bee kills, be alert to the bee activity whenever you plan to spray an insecticide on crops. Indiscriminate spraying can kill many bees.
In spring, as fruit trees flower, never spray them with insecticides when they are in bloom. Spraying for fruit pests can be done before and after flowering without harm to bees.
The best time to spray a garden for insects is only if they need it and in the very early morning or late evening when bees are not active. Liquid sprays rather than dusts are also less likely to be picked up by bees.
If honeybees have located in a tree too near your house, contact a beekeeper. Many times the bees can be relocated.
One of the most widely used insecticides for eliminating pests is Selvin, which is widely used in flower and vegetable gardens. Although it is one of the less toxic materials in regard to human use, it is highly toxic to bees. Therefore, this pesticide should not be used at anytime that bees are active.
Use care whenever using any insecticide. Remember to always read and follow the insecticide label.
For more information on bees or to be placed on the free beekeeper's newsletter, call the Dawson County Extension Office at (706) 265-2442.