A louder buzz

The buzz in our garden just got a bit louder – thanks to the arrival of a bumblebee hive. We’ve had fun watching them pop in and out of the hive and get used to their new surroundings and the Vege Grower is hoping for bumper crops this year, thanks to the extra workers.

And away they go! Photo: Sandra Simpson

The hives have been developed for backyard gardeners and schools as a joint venture between Zonda Beneficials, an Auckland company that specialises in biological controls and pollination, specialist Tauranga seed company Wildflower World and Farmlands.

The hives come with about 50 workers and a queen – enough to pollinate a backyard vege garden – and the hive will last, in favourable conditions, for three to four months. “The key,” Geoff Brunsden of Wildflower World says, “is to make sure they have enough food in your garden so they stay there.” He has put together a mix of 16 wildflower species designed to feed bumblebees for at least three months and keep them close to home.

Unlike honeybee hives that continue from year to year, bumblebee hives are short lived with the queen laying worker bees until just before the hive closes down. Then she will lay only queens, 20 to 30 on average, and these will disperse to start new colonies. “If you’re lucky – and have planted for them – they may stay in your garden,” Geoff says, “but they won’t use the box hive again.”

A bumblebee hard at work inside a hollyhock. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Bumblebees are thought to be more efficient pollinators than honeybees because they:

  • Start earlier and finish later each day
  • Work in all weathers (honeybees don’t like wind or rain)
  • Carry a bigger load of transfer pollen
  • Will visit more flowers per hour than any other pollinator
  • Are extremely efficient in extracting pollen from “hard to access flowers” such as beans and tomatoes
  • Will forage in confined areas, within a small radial area.

Bumblebees are also easy to look after – there’s no honey to collect, the numbers in each hive are much smaller and they aren’t affected by the varroa mite that has devastated honeybee hives.

Step one in preparing to have a backyard box of bumblebees is to sow the wildflower seeds near where the hive is to be located – once the flowers start to bloom the hive can be ordered. Home garden hives cost $60 (plus GST and overnight courier charge) and can be ordered from any Farmlands store. Full instructions on hive placement and maintenance are included.

Geoff suggests that in areas of high rainfall, or prone to heavy downpours, that a cover be placed over the hive (he uses an old beach umbrella). Although the hive is a waxed cardboard, it may deteriorate faster than it should in “monsoon” conditions.

Read more about bumblebee pollination trials in avocado and kiwifruit orchards.

Some of this article was originally published in the Bay of Plenty Times and appears here with permission.

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