Olives are traditionally considered a wind pollinated crop. There are some smaller than honey bee size insects that pick around at an olive flower and may provide some incidental pollination value, but nothing a grower can bank on. We have a neighbor who for the past few years has been building up a honeybee pollination business and was looking for another bee forage crop to try. He approached us about trying them in our olives, which are blooming now, and we happily said yes. Any increase in production will put a smile on a farmer's face, after all!
The reality of working around bees is that they will usually leave you alone, unless you get too close and piss them off. Here lies the challenge. While the trees are blooming, they are also sending out lots of suckers from their bases. Part of our job is to trim these suckers, so that they don't take energy from the tree. This energy is needed for bloom set and healthy fruit production.
The photo above is of a native bee on an olive flower cluster. Our long term goal is to build a stable population of native bees.
But to prune suckers means getting into a bee's space. The solution to this conundrum is a just get 'er done attitude, which translated means, when it's got to be done, get it done, but without losing your head about safety. Work happens more slowly, because we have to be more careful of being stung in the face.
A European Honeybee
doing what it does best -
pollinating - only this time
it's an olive blossom.
The real test is, of course, will the honeybees be interested in the olive blooms enough to consider their future use a viable added production cost? Is it worth hiring a pollination service or managing your own bees year round to increase production? Would it be worth it when compared to the potential increase in production?
We had almost a week of cloudy weather and the occasional rain shower while the bees were delivered and getting acclimated to their new surroundings. Bees don't like cloudy weather, so they hid in their hives for a few days. But yesterday, when the sun finally came out, the bees came out, big time. The orchard was swarming with bee activity, and some quick inspections of the blooms showed plenty of evidence that honey bees will take to the tiny olive flower, as the pictures posted here show.
The photo below shows a honeybee with two big lumps of harvested golden pollen at its left & right side.
Below is a picture of a native wasp variety that I have never seen before in this area. I seems that our hedgerow is beginning to attract some interesting little critters.
Here is another native bee, on a blanket flower in our hedgerow of native flowering plants.
The Honeybee Hives, next to a future shade structure for growing plant starts.
There is no real way to know for sure this year exactly how much fruit set will be increased by using the commercial European honeybee hives. This November will be our first harvest, so we have no past production records to compare with. All we can do is base this experiment's success upon a visual comparison of how many flowers set fruit on average last year. But from the increased bee activity that we're seeing in the orchard this year, crop production will definitely not be hurt.