Yield components including fruit set and berry size in northern highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) can be limited in key production regions like western Washington. Climactic conditions influence the activity levels of blueberry’s primary commercial pollinator, honey bee (Apis mellifera). Cool springs with frequent rainfall, which are common during the spring bloom period in western Washington, can reduce honey bee activity, pollination efficiency, and subsequent fruit set and yields. Increasing honey bee hive density may be a simple technique that growers can employ to increase the number of honey bees foraging during periods of good weather, interspersed with the poor weather, and therefore, increase fruit set and related yield components. The objective of this study was to evaluate if increased honey bee hive densities improve pollination and subsequent yield components in western Washington blueberry. Three field sites with mature ‘Duke’ plants were stocked with 10 hives/ha of honey bees (control), and three other field sites (also ‘Duke’) were stocked with 20 hives/ha (high hive density). Honey bee visitation and yield components, including fruit set and berry weight, were measured. Estimated yield, seed number/berry, and fruit firmness were also monitored. There were no significant differences in fruit set regardless of honey bee hive density. However, honey bee visitation and estimated yield increased with increased honey bee hive density. Berry weight and seed number per berry were also increased with increased honey bee hive density, although firmness was unaffected. Results indicate that increasing honey bee hive densities can help blueberry growers improve berry size and overall yields, suggesting this is a practice growers can implement if their production is constrained by insufficient pollination.
We would like to acknowledge the grower cooperators who participated in this trial, Bellevue Bees for their assistance with treatment application, and the Washington Blueberry Commission for funding.
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