S.C. beekeeper studies cucumber pollination

05/20/2011 01:20:00 PM
Coral Beach

Insects can be a grower’s worst nightmare, but without bees, no one could grow much of anything.

Honeybees get a lot of the credit for keeping things on the grow, but one South Carolina produce grower is working with the state’s master craftsman beekeeper to find out if the larger and fuzzier bumblebee can increase cucumber yields.

Chris Rawl, president of Clayton Rawl Farms Inc. in Lexington, S.C., usually has cucumbers planted on about 120 acres of his 2,200-acre farm.

This spring and summer, 5 acres of his long green cucumbers are the site of two pollination experiments under the direction of David MacFawn, the state’s top beekeeper.

Beginning in May, a 2.5-acre plot will be home to four bumblebee colonies. Another 2.5-acre plot will be pollinated with three honeybee colonies, compared to the normal 1.5 honeybee colonies per acre.

“Bumblebees tend to pollinate crops differently than honeybees,” MacFawn said in a statement on the website of the Southern Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education program.

The experiment at Rawl’s farm is being paid for with an $8,500 grant MacFawn obtained from the SARE program.

“(Bumblebees) will pollinate in inclement weather and they pollinate earlier in the season than honeybees. In addition, we want to determine if we can increase yields by doubling honeybee colonies per acre. Then we’ll compare the two.”

Rawl said he usually gets 800 to 1,000 boxes of long green cucumbers per acre.

Depending on the outcome of the two-year experiment, he may be able to increase that yield with very little effort — leaving the hard work to the worker bees.



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