Adventures in Beekeeping: Pollination

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Many may not know that pollination is the vital "second shift" of the humble honey bee. While honey bees are gathering nectar, they're also fertilizing flowering plants. Pollination occurs when pollen is transferred from the anthers of a flower to the ovules of another flower. This pollination greatly increases the quantity and quality of many crops like fruits, vegetables, and nuts. In fact, according to research published in 2012, the increased yield and quality of agricultural crops as a result of honey bee pollination is valued at more than $17 billion a year.

For many honey bees, the pollination season kicks off in California as more than 80 billion U.S. honey bees will set up shop in the nearly 1 million acres of almond crops. During the short growing season of mid-February to mid-March, approximately 85% of all available commercial hives make their way to sunny California to pollinate a massive 80% of the world's almonds. Since almonds are 100% dependent on honey bee pollination, this is considered to be the largest event in migratory beekeeping and pollination.

So where do honey bees go after the almonds have been pollinated? All over the country! Fun Fact: Honey bees pollinate crops in all 50 states, many of them taking different paths. 

Video Credit: Project Apis m.

Shortly following almonds, some honey bees will move on to Washington state to pollinate apples and cherries, while others will stay in California to help out with cherry, plum, and avocado pollination. In the summer months, many bees are trucked out to the alfalfa, sunflower, and clover fields of North and South Dakota, where they will make the majority of their honey for the year. Did you know that the Dakotas are actually the #1 and #2 honey-producing states in the U.S.? With their miles of bountiful fields, we can certainly see why!

Other hives choose to spend the summer in blueberry fields in Michigan, the cranberry bogs of Wisconsin, squash fields in Texas, and Florida's clementine and tangerine groves. With the variety of crops growing along the East Coast, some beekeepers choose to make this their year-round home, pollinating apples, cherries, pumpkins, cranberries, and a variety of vegetables.

Come November, most of the growing season has slowed and pollination work comes to a close. Beekeepers relocate their hard-working bees to warmer areas, like California, Texas, Florida, and even Idaho, to rest through the winter before the start of another exciting pollination season.

In 2018 ABC News' Ginger Zee followed some honey bees on their cross-country trip. Catch her insider look at all the care and planning that goes into preparing for the months-long pollination season in this episode of Food Forecast.