Manual pollination in a greenhouse for such vegetables as tomato plants can become extremely time consuming. Bumble bees provide the greenhouse caretaker with a natural pollination choice. Robust bees can pollinate almost 100 percent of the tomato plants within a greenhouse, according to the National Biological Information Infrastructure. Commerical bumble bee suppliers offer hives of varying sizes to meet the specific needs of the greenhouse.
Commercial Bumble Bees
Approximately 50 species of bumble bees live in North America, but the western bumble bee (Bombus occidentalis) and the eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens) are domesticated for use in the greenhouse. The bees require only a moderately sized hive, and they do not fly into the glass or translucent surfaces of the greenhouse like other bees. Commercial bumble bee rearing companies provide greenhouse caretakers with bumble bees year round for pollination.
Bumble Bee Pollination
The tomato greenhouse industry relies heavily on commercial bumble bee hives to ensure adequate pollination of their crops. Tomato flowers must undergo vibrations for successful pollination. The bumble uses its wings to create a buzzing vibration that shakes the flower to distribute its pollen. Honeybees and other pollinators do not have the ability to shake the tomato's flowers. The bees also pollinate raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, sweet peppers and melons.
Bumble Bee Hive Care
Commercial bumble bee suppliers overwinter the queen bumble bee by exposing her to carbon dioxide, according to Clemson University. The queen under goes further stimulation to continue to lay eggs by housing honey bees with her. By maintaining the queens all year, the greenhouse industry has colonies year round for greenhouse pollination and fruit production. Even large greenhouses often do not have sufficient plants to provide sufficient pollen for the bee's nutritional needs. The greenhouse care taker will need to provide the bumble bees with sugar water.
Hive Size and Life Span
A hive that houses 75 or more bumble bees can successfully pollinate a 10,000 to 15,000 square foot greenhouse, according to the Buglogical Control Systems. A greenhouse that measures under 5,000 square feet will usually require a hive that contains 45 to 60 worker bees to ensure pollination. Despite housing the bees in a confined area, the bumble bee's affable nature makes it rarely sting human workers. Drone bumble bees also do not have the capacity to sting. Depending on the hive's size, the bees will usually live from 4 to 14 weeks.
- Clemson University Cooperative Extension; Bumble Bees As Pollinators; Wm. Michael Hood
- National Biological Information Infrastructure: Bumble Bees: Terrific Greenhouse Pollinators
- University of Minnesota Extension; Befriending Bumble Bees; Ellen Evans, et al.; 2007
- United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service; Bumblebees
- Buglogical Control Systems: Description
- Photo Credit David Oldfield/Digital Vision/Getty Images