Commercial beekeepers and bees support NJ's huge produce industry
State apiarist Grant Stiles shows bees are vital to New Jersey fruit and vegetable industry.
Monday, April 19, 2010 - 21:21
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE: Bees like this one help to pollinate our crops and support New Jersey’s fruit and vegetable industry. ( Photo: Automania/Flickr)
Pollination is "the process by which pollen is transferred in plants, thereby enabling fertilization and sexual reproduction." Humans have manipulated bees for the purpose of crop pollination since "the earliest days of man conquering agriculture."
Bee pollination of crops originally involved men with horses and wagons. These days, state-of-the-art beekeepers perform their duties "with tractor trailers and forklifts moving massive amounts of bees over interstate highways to rutted farm roads." However, the main ingredient remains primitive and unchanged: hives kept in wooden boxes. The bees, otherwise hyper and excitable, are kept calm by a steady stream of smoke. During transportation, some fly off and some die, "but most, millions and millions of them — survive, healthy and ready for important work." Each truck can carry 500 boxes of the bees, with each box containing a colony. Grant Stiles is New Jersey's largest beekeeper, operating out of Fords. However, his operation is not strictly limited to the Garden State. Stiles and his hives have done work from as far south as the Carolinas to as far north as northern New York. After pollinating seasons, Stiles takes his hives north to the Canadian border, where Stiles says "we go there, get the colonies healthy and collect honey."
However, during the early morning hours of April 17, Stiles and his hives were hard at work helping to pollinate rows of blueberry shrubs at Variety Farms in Hammonton, N.J. In fact, for this entire week, "the migratory honey bees are descending on South Jersey's extensive blueberry farms and cranberry bogs." According to New Jersey state apiarist Tim Schuler, New Jersey's two biggest fruit crops — blueberries and cranberries — couldn't succeed without the migratory, commercial bees. Each colony can pollinate about an acre of blueberry bushes.
In order to understand just how important these bees are, consider this fact: "There are about 7,500 acres devoted to high-bush blueberries with a $90 million crop value." This staggering number accounts "for almost 10 percent of all New Jersey food products." Even more staggering is this fact: New Jersey produces over $200 million worth of fruits and vegetables a year. So, bee dependent-food products represent over 25 percent of all food products originating from New Jersey annually.
New Jersey's commercial beekeepers are ready to answer the call. "Beekeepers, like Stiles, have about 10,000 colonies ready to work each spring."
All I know is, these bees get way too much of a bad rap considering all the help they give us.
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