Most people are aware of the importance of honey bees (Apis mellifera) to our food supply. They pollinate many of the fruits and vegetables eat year-round and are critical for pollinating forage crops used to feed dairy cows. The Berea College Farm has maintained a small apiary at the College Gardens for nearly 20 years for educational and research purposes, honey production, as well as fruit and vegetable pollination.
In greenhouse environments, however, honey bees are not very effective as pollinators. Bumble bees work much better. These fuzzy bees are in the same family as honey bees, Apidae, but differ in many ways. Unlike honey bees, bumble bees live in an underground nest and, except for the queen, they don’t live through the winter. Because of this, bumble bees don’t store huge amounts of food (honey and pollen) in their nest as honey bees do.
When it comes to communication, bumble bees lack that the complex dance language that honey bees use for instructing their sisters where food can be found. Nevertheless, bumblebees are effective foragers and pollinators and the College Farm has enlisted the services of one particular species for pollinating tomatoes and cucumbers grown in greenhouses. This species, Bombus impatiens, is one of the more common species of North American bumble bees and can be found in many eastern states including Kentucky. Enjoy this short video of B. impatiens produced by Avery Mathews, summer intern on the Berea College Farm.