Blueberrytalk's Weblog

Everything connected to growing blueberries

The foraging habits of honeybees

Posted by blueberrytalk on December 3, 2017

When we heard that Black Locust honey was highly prized we planted Black Locust trees. The trees grew very tall and sent out suckers everywhere! I can’t recall over the years seeing honeybees foraging on Black Locust blossoms. A few bumblebees stopped by. Somewhere in the eastern US or Europe where there is a Black Locust forest and there are no other foraging choices honeybees will make Black Locust honey.

A frequent winner of honey tasting contests is sourwood honey. We planted some sourwood trees with high expectations. Over the years they have proved very popular with bumblebees. Honeybee visits are rare. Oh well, it’s there if they want it!

We happened upon the Heptacodium tree (or shrub). It blossoms for an entire month at the end of the season. It is loved by honeybees and bumblebees for both nectar and pollen. We have no idea as to what kind of honey is produced.

Honeybees will visit blueberry blossoms if it is their only choice! Once the blackberry blossoms open the honeybees will choose blackberry blossoms. I asked an old time beekeeper what the honeybees will do given a choice between blueberry blossoms and blackberry blossoms. He just laughed and said: ”blackberry!”  Late flowering blueberry varieties are hard to pollinate once the blackberry blossoms open. This is where Mason bees and worker bumblebees can be a big help!


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Late flowering trees

Posted by blueberrytalk on September 29, 2017

Heptacodium {seven sons) provides nectar and pollen all through September. It is very popular with all the bees.heptacodium

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Early Elliott bloom

Posted by blueberrytalk on May 19, 2017

Elliott, a late variety, is blooming alongside the early varieties. The early varieties are blooming almost a month later than usual.


bee in elliott

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Pussywillow pollen

Posted by blueberrytalk on March 23, 2017


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Posted by blueberrytalk on January 4, 2017

In 2016 the flower buds on the Rhododendrons exceeded anything we had ever seen!

We used our camera to record this exceptional year.

Then we added music by Suzy Haynes.




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Keeping cocoons cool

Posted by blueberrytalk on November 19, 2016

This fridge is used during the summer for cooling blueberries. Fridges dehumidify the air to a level that is not good for cocoons. Using a 4 litre milk container with ice from the freezer avoids this problem. At the time of the picture the fridge temperature was 4C while the outside temperature was 8C. The fridge is also protection from rodents.


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Improving Bluecrop production

Posted by blueberrytalk on November 3, 2016

For many years Bluecrop held the distinction of being the variety of choice for blueberry growers. Then came Duke! Duke was as easy to pollinate as Bluecrop was difficult to pollinate. Bluecrop invariably left 20-30% of the fruit as tiny undeveloped green berries. Duke berries tend to ripen in fewer pickings making it much easier for pickers to achieve  higher production. This says nothing about the overall production of the field.

We are attempting to meet all of the challenges posed by Dukes by using Mason bees to pollinate in the Bluecrop. Mason bees are trapped by their unwillingness to fly long distances so they can be forced to pollinate Bluecrop when they are placed next to Bluecrop. The first question is :”How many Mason bee cocoons does it take to pollinate an acre of Bluecrop?” We are close to an answer to this and probably after the 2017 season we will have a pretty good idea. Last year we used about 1500 cocoons per acre. Overall production is harder to pin down but we are collecting data in this area. We will have something to say about picker satisfaction that comes from compressed ripening later in this blog entry.

Let’s look at the challenge posed by Duke. This is what the second picking looks like to a picker!


The greater the density and size of berries the greater the productivity in picking.

Thanh is from Vietnam. He and his wife Lan have picked at our farm for about 20 years. Thanh knows the difference between a bush  he would like to pick from a bush he wouldn’t like to pick. His English is excellent and he doesn’t hesitate to share his thoughts. He has been with us through all the old “hard to pick” varieties that we no longer grow.

In 2015 we hand picked the Bluecrop in 3 pickings  In 2016 we did one hand pick and then finished the field with a machine pick. A couple of times before we machine harvested Thanh expressed his disappointment that he wouldn’t get a chance to pick the 2nd pick of Bluecrop. One anecdote can’t convince but we would like to pursue the idea  that Bluecrop , pollinated by Mason bees, can lead to a crop that produces higher picker satisfaction by the way the berries are presented on the bush.


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Honeybees favor blackberry blossoms

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 25, 2016

Honeybees forage in the blueberries until the blackberry blossoms open. In the picture below the honey on the left is blueberry blossom honey. It crystalizes very quickly into crystals that are so fine that it is like creamed honey. We like to take it off as soon as it is produced so that it doesn’t blend with the next honey which is blackberry honey.


The first blackberry blossoms appear well before the blueberry blossoms are over. The picture below was taken May 22. Draper blueberries are in bloom at this time and the Drapers begin to experience the migration of honeybee attention from blueberry blossoms to blackberry blossoms. We see few honeybees working in a late variety like Elliott.

The first blackberry variety sets out blossoms in a compressed period of time. You can see in the picture below that the second blossoms follow right on the heels of the first. It’s all over in a couple of weeks. The bees go right to it when it appears.


This leads right into the well known Himalayan blackberry which blossoms gradually over the next couple of months. You can see the lineup of buds in the picture below.


What can a grower do to help the pollination of late varieties? As the season progresses the wild bumblebee population explodes. We rely on worker bumblebees to pollinate the Elliott blossoms. Bumblebee populations can be increased by taking care of the environment they live in. But that’s another story!

Growers can also rely on Mason bees whose lifespan extends past the late blueberry varieties.

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Enhancing Blueberry pollination with Mason bees

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 21, 2016

For the last two years I had set out enough nests to accommodate a 2 ½ times increase in cocoons collected. It quickly became obvious that nests would be full well before the pollination was over. The measure of pollination success is not the cocoons placed in the field but the number of cocoons collected. Each cocoon collected represents something that began with a wad of pollen that was the start of a new cocoon. Each wad of pollen represents 1500 flower visits. Blueberry pollen is very distinctive as can be seen in the picture and the pollen can be easily seen when the bees enter their nest.


I experienced a more than 2 1/2 times increase in cocoons from the number set out originally. What explains this increase? When cocoons are released in the field some will stay to use the nests that are available where they are released but some will fly away to seek opportunities elsewhere. This would be analogous to swarming in honeybees. On my farm there are so many nest locations (marked by arrows) that many bees will just relocate to another nest location on my farm.



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Dealing with wasps

Posted by blueberrytalk on October 19, 2016

Wasps can be distracted  from trying to enter honeybee colonies. A container of cappings is placed on the inner cover to give the honeybees a couple of days to lick off whatever honey the can find. Then the container with others is placed on the top of a colony. Wasps will be drawn to this for the last remains of honey rather than run the risk of trying to enter a hive. If you want to reduce the wasp population the picture shows how.

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