Do you want to ensure that the flowers, plants or veggies you are growing in your greenhouse thrive throughout the year? If you answered yes, then you need to make sure they are pollinated adequately. The best way to ensure that is if you maintain a beehive and put the honey bees to work pollinating your precious produce or flowers and make them market-ready. They are the best pollinators in the animal kingdom. While they can be used by the plants in your greenhouse, you need to take certain precautions if you want to keep them in or outside the greenhouse. I found that out the hard way but hopefully, these instructions will help you avoid costly mistakes.
Why Bees Are An Essential Part Of The Pollination Process
Before you even think of keeping bees in your greenhouse, you need to understand how pollination works and why bees, bumblebees to be specific, are an essential part of this critical process. When a bee collects nectar and pollen from a flower from the stamen aka the male reproductive organ of the plant, some of its pollen gets stuck on the tiny hair on its body.
So when the bee flies away and lands on another flower, that pollen rubs off on the female reproductive organ of that flower aka the stigma, thus ‘fertilizing’ it, which leads to the development of seed-bearing fruit (https://bees.techno-science.ca/english/bees/pollination/default.php).
Bees don’t engage in the process because they love flowers and plants. They do it because they benefit from it as well. The insects take some of the pollen they collect back to their hive, where nurse bees, which are responsible for taking care of new larvae, consume it. The pollen they consume is mixed with honey and enzymes to create ‘bee bread’, which is used by the larvae for nutrition until they are old enough to spin their cocoons /9https://www.perfectbee.com/learn-about-bees/the-science-of-bees/exploring-the-process-of-pollination).
Keeping Bees Inside the Greenhouse for Greenhouse Pollination
If your greenhouse is large enough to accommodate hives, make sure they are covered in protective boxes. Plus, rather than filling them chock full of bumblebees, they should only be filled 3/4 of the way with the insects. Additionally, the hives should be evenly spaced out in the greenhouse in a checkerboard pattern and a couple of feet above the ground. If you cannot place them in that pattern among your plants, place them along the perimeter of the crop. If the hives are placed correctly, the bees will seek out the pollen on their own so you won’t need to hire a beekeeper. (https://www.producegrower.com/article/put-the-bees-to-work/)
However, unlike outdoor hives that can survive for a couple of years, bees that live inside the greenhouse can last for only 10 to 12 weeks before it has to be replaced. Some can only survive for six to eight weeks. While honey bees can live longer compared to bumblebees, they are not great pollinators in comparison, so swapping species won’t do the trick (https://www.thesca.org/connect/blog/bumblebees-vs-honeybees-what%E2%80%99s-difference-and-why-does-it-matter).
That’s because they do not buzz pollinate, which makes them inefficient with some crops that are grown in greenhouses, such as tomatoes. A bumblebee pollinates the plant’s flower by biting on and making it vibrate, thus transferring enough pollen for pollination to occur (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SZrTndD1H10).
Keeping Bees Outside the Greenhouse for Greenhouse Pollination
Unless you have a large greenhouse or several greenhouses that are used to grow a variety of plants, flowers and produce, keeping bees inside is not a good idea. For example, if you grow only tomatoes year-round, your bees may get sick. Like humans, these insects also need variety in their diet to remain healthy so the more sources of pollen, the longer they will live.
So, if your greenhouse is too small or you grow specific types of plants only, placing the hive outside is a good idea, but make sure they have access to the interior as well. To do this, place the hive next to the outer wall of the greenhouse that is facing southeast. That way the bees will be in the prime spot to get the first warmth of the day as the sun rises each day. This, in turn, will make them get to work faster for maximum pollination and production.
You can also remove a panel from your greenhouse to make room for the hive and seal around it to keep your plants protected from the elements. If there are no panels, just attach a PVC tube to the entrance to the hive and make sure the other end protrudes out of the greenhouse. That way your bees will have access to the outside world, a diverse diet and can maintain pollination cycles in your greenhouse for years as new generations replace old ones (https://extension.oregonstate.edu/news/bumblebees-are-important-pollinators-gardens).
However, that access will be influenced by the structure of the hive as well. Irrespective of the one you choose, you have to make sure that there is an exit for the bees and keep it covered. You can use wire mesh but the bees may fill it with propolis to block light. A cork is a better alternative since it will allow the colony access to the outside and when you remove it from inside your greenhouse, the bees can pollinate your crops and flowers as well.
That is not to say that your produce and flowers won’t grow if you don’t have bees to pollinate them. They will be forced to self-pollinate but that will only deliver pollen from one flower to the stigma of the same flower. Plants get a better fruit set when they receive pollen from different sources (https://www.greenhousemag.com/article/pg1014-bees-healthy-habitat-plants/).
- Q. Can you put bees in a greenhouse?
- Yes, as long as you use bumblebees only. While a honey bee is more familiar with greenhouse enthusiasts, they are not great at pollination because they cannot survive for long in an enclosed space and it cannot extract pollen from every plant as efficiently as a bumblebee can. That’s because a honey bee cannot match the same vibration frequency that makes bumblebees so efficient in extracting pollen.
- Can a bee survive in a house?
- A bee cannot survive indoors for long if it does not have access to its hive. If it is cold and all of the honey it has in its stomach digests, it can die in an hour’s time. If it is trapped in a house with no nectar to sustain it, it can fly around for 40 minutes if she has a stomach full of honey. After that, it stops flying and then dies soon after (https://animals.mom.me/how-long-do-honeybees-live-without-a-hive-12553365.html).
- Can bees survive without flowers?
- During the winter when flowers are not in bloom, bees survive by living off the honey that is stored in their hives. Some even visit trash cans foraging for sources of sweet liquid they can consume and bring back for the others. In fact, they will also raid hummingbird feeders if they cannot find ample sources of nectar elsewhere.
This is only true for honey bees, though. Some species of bees live under the ground during the winter for 11 months, waiting for the flowers to bloom before coming out to pollinate and for nectar (http://blogs.ifas.ufl.edu/news/2017/08/21/no-flowers-no-problem-uf-study-shows-bees-ways-finding-sugar/).
So, we have learned that:
- Whether you have one greenhouse or several greenhouses, your plants need pollination to thrive if not to survive.
- You should keep bumblebees rather than honeybees in your greenhouse to enhance pollination and ensure your plants can get a diverse range of pollen from different sources.
- Giving both indoor and outdoor access to your bees will make them more productive and healthy, which will translate into quality produce.
- Prioritizing your bees’ comfort and health is key to a thriving greenhouse.
I would love to answer any other questions you may have regarding bee-keeping or greenhouse issues you may have. Just leave a comment below with your queries and I will get back to you. Maintaining a hive in or outside a greenhouse is not difficult if you have the right tools and information to make both thrive symbiotically.