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Agricultural News


Courtney Bir With All The Buzz About Bees And Their Impact As Pollinators

Fri, 25 Jun 2021 10:20:40 CDT

Courtney Bir With All The Buzz About Bees And Their Impact As Pollinators This week is declared National Pollinator Week by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, which was designed to increase awareness about pollinators and their impact.

One of the most efficient and prevalent pollinators: Bees.

Associate Farm Director KC Sheperd caught up with Courtney Bir, Oklahoma State University Extension farm management specialist and assistant professor of agricultural economics.

“Bees are really important pollinators along with other species such as butterflies, bats, and even common house flies,” Bir said. “We want to make sure we have strong pollinator species so that we can rely on them to pollinate crops, have food to eat, and do it in the most economical way.”

There are many different species of bees, Bir said, and they do a great job of pollinating crops, plants and gardens.

This is especially important given the fact that certain species of pollinators are the sole pollinators for some plants, she added.

For example, every variety of fig trees has a particular wasp that pollinates that fig tree. So, as we start to lose pollinator species, we lose plants that rely on the pollination, Bir said.

Oklahoma is a beekeeper friendly state; beehives are governed by the Apiary Act, which states Stillwater or any other community in Oklahoma cannot prohibit bees within city limits.

“Urban beekeepers are protected by this law, and a housing subdivision can’t restrict bees,” Bir said. “Having said that, it’s good to be a good neighbor. Make sure that when you install your hive, it’s in a spot that’s not going to greatly impede your neighbors.”

Hives are available commercially at farm and ranch supply stores, online or at specialty beekeeping shops. They are comprised of bees that have been collected from the wild, split from another hive or marketed as a package or nucleus.

A nucleus looks like a tote with bees and wooden frames on which the bees draw comb. These cells of wax store everything they need to survive including pollen, eggs, the larvae or brood as well as honey. A package includes just the bees so they can be sent via mail.

The basic list of items required to start a hive is estimated to cost $400 to $500. While a basic package of bees ranges from $80 to $100, a nucleus, like what Bir purchased, costs between $150 and $250. As the hive grows, additional wooden frames and boxes, treatment for mites and other supplies can rise to $700.
Oklahoma crops do not require exclusive bee pollination like California and other states where pollination is critical to production in almond tree groves. Bees sleep five to eight hours a night, allowing farmers to transport them to different fields for pollination with little disruption during the evening hours.

“Native pollinators in Oklahoma do a great job, but crops like watermelon, cantaloupe and seed alfalfa do better when there are more pollinators,” Bir said. “This poses an opportunity for larger beekeepers and farmers to team up for increased pollination that can help crops produce higher yields.”

This is one reason why it is important to not harm bees, Bir said, as they are often harmless unless aggravated. An alternative to grabbing the bug spray includes messaging one of the many bee keeping Facebook groups and allowing them to safely collect and transport your bee population.

Bir said this presents a great opportunity for those bee keepers as it allows them to add to their population, produce and sell honey.

It is also safer and better for the bees themselves, she added.

It is always best to contact the bee keeper before the bees begin building up honeycomb and making their current habitat their home. The early the swarm is removed, the better.

Bir mentioned there are also several ways to attract bees, should someone be interested in caring for them and becoming a bee keeper.

“There are several plants that are pollinator-friendly, so planting those is an option,” Bir said.

It is also important to minimize the use of pesticides and be aware of what labels say because certain chemicals can hurt bees, Bir said.

Companion planting is a great alternative to chemical use, she said.

For example, planting marigolds among other plants to minimize unwanted insects, or utilizing lady bugs to eat aphids.

“If you can cultivate a balance in your garden, you can get away without using pesticides,” Bir said.

Oklahoma is home to several beekeeping clubs and organizations including the Oklahoma State Beekeepers Association. To learn more about establishing a new hive and beekeeping in your own backyard, see the bee fact sheets available through OSU Extension Agriculture publications.

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