Bees on the Move
All over the world, beekeepers keep honeybees in hives so that they can harvest delicious honey and have their gardens and crops pollinated by this industrious insect.
There are approximately 200,000 beekeepers in the United States who keep from one to thousands of bee hives. Most of these beekeepers are small-scale, meaning they only keep a few hives of honeybees for themselves. Often, these beehives are kept in a backyard, on a porch, or even on a rooftop! A few beehives is enough for these beekeepers to pollinate their own land and produce honey for their family.
Commercial beekeepers keep hundreds or even thousands of honeybee hives for commercial use. Keeping this many honeybees is a full-time job, and commercial beekeepers depend on their honeybees for all of their income. Commercial beekeepers will produce large amounts of honey to bottle and sell, rent their hives to growers for pollination, raise honeybee hives to sell to new beekeepers, or sell other products produced by the honeybees.
Migratory beekeeping is a special type of commercial beekeeping. Beekeepers who “migrate” move their honeybee hives all across the country so that the honeybees can pollinate crops. Pollination is the fertilization of plants necessary to produce nuts, fruits, and even seeds. For a plant to be pollinated, the pollen grains need to be moved from the stamen (the male part of the flower) to the pistil (female part of the flower) so that fertilization can occur. There are many different animals and insects that pollinate plants. Bats, wasps, butterflies, and of course honeybees are all important pollinators. Honeybees are especially good pollinators because pollen is their primary source of protein. As they travel from flower to flower collecting pollen to eat, they pollinate our crops.
Pollination is the single most important service that honeybees provide for us, and migratory beekeepers are responsible for large portion of that! Moving hundreds of beehives across the nation isn’t easy, so migratory beekeepers have to plan and prepare plenty of time in advance. The honeybees are moved at night after the foragers have returned to their hive so that honeybees will not be left behind. To ship the honeybees, the beekeepers load the hives onto large flatbed trucks (450 hives per truck!), and the bees are then driven to crops which need to be pollinated.
A migratory beekeeper may bring their hives to pollinate the almond groves in California, the blueberries in Maine, the Cranberries in Wisconsin, and many other crops throughout the country! Because of their role in pollination, honeybees create every third bite of food we eat-- even if the food doesn’t have any honey in it. So the next time you eat a handful of almonds or bite into a juicy apple, remember to thank the honeybees who pollinated it for you!