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Discussion Starter #1
Hello All,

I'm a 4-hive hobbyist making the leap to a "serious sideline" venture. This one may be over my head, but maybe worth a shot. A friend has has a U-Pick blueberry operation and is interested in honeybee pollination. Would I be crazy buying some nucs to put some hives together for this spring in time for pollination? Live in north-central NY. He has about 1200 blueberry bushes. Not sure of total acreage. I have plenty of equipment, it's just a matter of bees. I'm not sure when he needs the bees. So;

1) If I can find out the expected bloom dates of these blueberries, when do I need to have the hives there and how long should I leave them there?

2) I can get nucs mid to late May. How much time do you think it would take a 5 frame nuc to be usable as a pollination hive?

3) Any rough guidelines on the number of hives needed per acre or number of bushes?

Thanks in advance,
Steve
 

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A friend has has a U-Pick blueberry operation and is interested in honeybee pollination.
Just a note of caution. Intermingling friendship and business can be hazardous. The potential is to lose both.
Best of luck.
 

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I think it is two hives per acre, Blueberries do not have much to offer bees so you dont want to get them there too early, you are going to be short of time for this year, use yours and bring in some other small beekeeper to fill in. Getting that bloom date will help determine that.
Bob
 

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Blue berries are one of the first plants to bloom, we have some blooming now. I am not sure when they bloom in NY but, u may be too late for this year. If you decide to do this you may have to start planning now for next year.
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
Thanks folks,

Beemandan - I better be careful, I don't want to screw up a beer drinking friendship! Just my bees are probably already pollinating his blueberries anyway because of our proximity so the plan is to just barter for some blueberries. Figured since there's no money involved, it takes the pressure off the bees and I to perform. Thought the worst we could do is nothing and he'll just get his usual crop.

B Reeves - The earliness of having hives ready in this climate is my biggest concern. I've read that blueberries aren't a good source of pollen or nectar, but I'm hoping the girls can find better sources while they are there since I'm sure I can't "train" them to go to blueberry blossoms alone. Fortunately blueberry pollen isn't blue, so even if my friend has the courage to look closely at the hive, he won't be able to tell the bees like his dandelions better than his blueberries!

Since, my yard will be kind of full here, I guess if I gain more hives and another yard, I'll consider it a successful venture. If the blueberries don't do as well, we'll blame it on the weather! If they do well, the bees can take all the credit and he will be anxious to lease them the following year. Could always peddle some bee products at his farm stand too, but we're getting back to Beemandan's concerns....have to think on that one.

Thanks, Steve
 

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Discussion Starter #6
Johng,

Heck, the snow doesn't melt until the 4th of July around here!! (Just kidding - but we usually expect it to be gone by the beginning to mid-April.) Told my wife we need to move south with the bees to get are bees going earlier, then move them back north following the bloom dates. - She agrees!

You're probably right, I'm anxiously awaiting word on the expected bloom dates.

I'll post dates when I hear more.

Thanks, Steve
 

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I live in the midst of 10000 acres of Blueberries. We place hives in the blueberry fields on Mar 15 - they stay there six weeks. Each acre gets 2 strong hives - if your buddy will agree to it - 3 would be better. You want the hives out just before the BB's start to bloom. BB's don't do too much for bees so you are doing him the favor, We get $60 per hive.
 

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Blueberry pollen is an incomplete protein, which purportedly will give bees an upset stomach. I've heard of local guys taking bees to a local blueberry patch, and after a week the bees refused to work blueberries anymore. He swapped out the hives with new hives, and those bees worked the blooms for another week.

I have heard you want 2-4 hives per acre of blueberries. You want to saturate the area with so many bees that they don't have a choice but to work the blueberries.

How do you plan to finance buying all these nucs and hive equipment? It's a losing proposition at $60 a hive. If all you are getting is blueberries - those will be some awfully expensive blueberries. (And as a 4 hive hobbyist, where do you plan on getting all the equipment to go into pollination? For example, truck, trailer, forklift or hive cart, etc.)

What do you plan to do with all the hives after the blueberry pollination is over?
 

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I think he is only talking 1200 plants - maybe 1.5 acres. So he puts his four hives on his pickup and drives them over. AS far as sickness from BB polination - I have not seen that. Now if you leave them there once spraying has begun - well yea - they will get sick.
 

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around me the blueberries blossom from early may til about june depending on the variety.

i say go for it if your not billing him for anything more than berries then its hard to lose i think its when cash starts flying that things get sticky.

just dont get more hives then you can properly manage and things should be okay:thumbsup:

good luck
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Thanks for all the input. I'm still waiting on getting bloom dates from my buddy. From doing a little online research, it looks like the blueberries could be blooming here as early as mid-May, about the same time my nucs get here. Looks like if I do anything, I'll have to use my existing colonies (if I can get them through the rest of the winter.)

We're talking 2 acres at best, and he's about 2 miles away. So no major equipment needs. I'll scout out the area to see what other forage the bees might be able to find. At best, I'm thinking some good PR and maybe generate some honey sales. I'll keep thinking this through.

I'm trying to learn more about blueberries, too. Spoke to another beekeeper last night who has pollinated blueberries further north...loves the smell of the hives when they come back!

Thanks again, Steve
 

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It will be interesting to see how pollination works on just 2 acres of blueberries. I only have a few plants (about 10) and actually have hives between the plants but have never seen a honey bee on a blossom. I have seen them resting on a leaf.

I can see how the bees can be forced to work the blueberries by moving them in right after the bloom starts if there is nothing around that they can find that they like better. So if you move them into a 50 -500 acre blueberry field from somewhere they will likely find the blueberry blossom first and being very loyal to a nectar source will continue to pollinate those blossoms.

My first reaction would be that 2 acres would be too small unless it was surrounded by many acres of grass seed field or something else with no competing source.

Let us know how it goes.
 

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This question is right up my ally. Our blueberry operation is around 1500 bushes. I put anywhere form 4 to 10 hives the more the better. Bloom will start the first week in May we have six verities so bloom period will last three to four weeks.
The information that countryboy mentioned is inaccurate, I have never seen any adverse effect to honeybees or to any native pollinators like Mason bees or bumble bees that frequent the patch along with honeybees. In good years with warm sunny weather the honey production can be very good. I have used the opportunity to start packages because this is one of the earliest major flows of the season with great success. I have never heard any complaints form the commercial beekeeper that come to this area during bloom.

For more detailed check this link http://www.beeculture.com/content/pollination_handbook/index.cfm
 

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Given the number of colonies brought into Maine for blueberry pollination (well over 50,000) I thought of a future sideline business since it is not much of a drive to the blueberry barrens.

Here's a link to a fact sheet from the University of Maine that I thought was helpful, particularly the hives per acre recommendation. (2 hives on a small field surrounded by woods with little competing forage, up to 5 hives/acre on the large tracts such as the barrens.

Based here, it would require over-wintered nucs to be ready for spring blossoms.

Wayne
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Wow, lots of good information and literature sited. Only thing more I have learned is he has two cultivar of Vaccinium cormbusom, Bluecrop and Blueray highbush blueberries.

The overwintering nuc idea for next year looks like a good management technique for our climate so we can hit the ground running when spring actually arrives here. More studying and learning!

Thanks, Steve
 

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Both bluecrop and blueray are great mid season berries, bluecrop will soon become the most cultivated blueberry variety in Michigan replacing Jersey.
Bluecrop produces large firm berries they are sturdy bushes that are resistant to many diseases that plague other varieties. Dr. Larry Connor did a study that showed the better pollinated a flower is directly preoperational to the size of the berry.

Once it was thought that planting large patches of one variety was the way to go but it was discovered that production was not as good as patches that had multiple varieties.
Here is another link you might find useful.
http://web1.msue.msu.edu/fruit/index.htm
 

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Univ. TN ag (or maybe it was GA) info says that you need 4 colonies of bees per acre to pollinate blueberries.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
Again, Thanks for all the info. My blueberry buddy just e-mailed me that he expects the bloom at the end of May and lasts 2 weeks. That should work out a little better than planned on timing for our overwintered stock. A bit too tight on new nucs. Got a meeting planned next week at the local tavern. He also confirmed about 1200 plants on 1.2 acres. Hoping to go scout out the orchard next week to see the layout. I'll post any new developments.
 

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I have 24 blueberry plants in my back yard. You would think that with three hives, that I would have seen my bees on them. I never did, but I saw lots of bumbles working them.
 

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I've never worked blueberries but know a few commercial beeks who have pollinated them the past few years. Both indicated that some farmers were less than pleased because they never saw bees actually working the blueberry blooms. Both advised that at times their bees found a better/stronger source for nectar and pollen and ignored the bluberries they were right on top of. I think they were at 3-4 hives per acre and $60 per hive.
 
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