Bees Required to Create an Excellent Blueberry Crop
By Kim Kaplan
June 17, 2019
Getting an excellent rabbiteye blueberry harvest requires helpful pollinators—particularly native southeastern blueberry bees—although growers can bring in managed honey bees to do the job, according to Agricultural Research Service (ARS) scientists.
This is especially true for commercial rabbiteye blueberry producers in Mississippi and Louisiana. With sufficient pollinators, they have been able to increase the percentage of flowers setting fruit from 10-30 percent to 70 percent or more. A mature rabbiteye blueberry bush can produce as much as 15 pounds of berries.
Fully pollinated berries also are bigger and mature earlier than fruit from inadequately pollinated flowers. So, bee-pollinated flowers produce fruit that bring a premium in the marketplace.
“We looked at multiple species of bees to see which did the best job of pollinating rabbiteye blueberries. We tested managed honey bees, native bumble bee species, southeastern blueberry bees and carpenter bees,” explained research entomologist Robert Danka with the ARS Honey Bee Breeding, Genetics, and Physiology Research Laboratory in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, who co-led the study.