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Are We Backing The Wrong Bee?

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Honey bees arrived in North America in the 17th century, carried by European colonists. They’re actively managed in hives and are considered domestic livestock. Where I live in North Carolina, growers with large cucumber and squash farms rent honey bees at a cost of $100 or more per hive and require 1-2 hives per acre during each season. But why would a farmer hire expensive pollination services when the squash bees work for free?

For years, the advice farmers received was similar to that given in this North Carolina extension apiculturalist bulletin: “Only honey bees are available in adequate numbers to ensure good cucumber fruit set.” Lately, though, the state has tried to increase awareness about the capabilities of wild, native bees to pollinate North Carolina’s crops. Cane told me that for pollinating crops such as squashes, gourds and pumpkins, “It’s clear that native bees are the best.” Others who study squash pollination concur. But many farmers are not aware of native bees. Native bees don’t always resemble honey bees and vary in size, so farmers may not know if they have other pollination options nearby.


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