How do you keep bees in your orchard when there are more attractive flowering plants in the vicinity? The answer may lie in pheromones.
- Bees are essential for almond trees to produce nuts
- Keeping bees in an orchard can be difficult if other types of enticing flowering plants are around
- A farmer is using Specialised Pheromone Lure Attractant Technique to trick the insect to stay longer and do their job
Dollops of pheromones have been sprayed into flowering almond orchards near Robinvale, in north-west Victoria, with the aim of creating excitement among bees, thus creating more nuts.
Bees are essential for the fruit to set, so getting the insects to stay and do their job rather than go foraging in forests elsewhere is vital.
Organic Crop Protectants’ Tony Filippi said it was important to get the smell just right.
“The bee has many different pheromones that it emits,” he said.
“We’re using a novel bit of chemistry in a paste–like substance called SPLAT, which means Specialised Pheromone Lure Attractant Technique.”
Mr Filippi said he used a machine he called “the splatagator” to shoot pink, dough-like goo into the trunks of almond trees.
“We’re putting small dollops throughout the orchard to stimulate the bees to come into that part of the orchard, to work longer and to move a little further and more evenly through the orchard,” he said.
“It adheres to the tree and within a couple of hours will dry … and slowly emit the volatile or the pheromone.
“For this particular produce it can take over four to six weeks (to last).”
He said the substance could be applied in a few ways, depending on the size of the orchard.
“We have it available in a caulking gun, which can be hand applied and is good in small situations,” Mr Filippi said.
“But, in a commercial orchard, we have a machine where we can travel along (rows) between 10 and 12 kilometres shooting dollops into the trees.”
Luring goo has many features
Mr Filippi said the Californian product could be used to seduce insects for a variety of purposes.
“The wax-like dollops carry whatever substance that we want into the tree,” he said.
Mr Filippi said weather played an important part in a successful pollination program. He said bees wouldn’t come out if the temperature was less than 13 degrees.
“You need to maximise bee activity within the orchard to cross-pollinate the flowers, so anything to enhance it will help it,” he said.
“What the bees are searching for is pollen and nectar. Nectar for food for themselves, but the pollen is very important to cap the brood or the eggs that they have in their cells within the hive. They need to put a cap over the top of them and they use pollen to do this.
Drone to monitor bees
Apiarist and Bee Innovative chief executive, David Lyall is also involved in the project. An Unmanned Aviation Vehicles (UAV) pilot, he flies a drone across the almond trees to assess bee activity.
Mr Lyall uses a radar-like sensor to watch the bees.
“We call it ‘beedar’, and effectively it’s the first time growers are able to track in real time where the bees are working,” he said.
“The radar emits a high energy signal, and that bounces back off the crop and the bees and other insects that are working in the crop.
Mr Lyall said that while the technology might appear to be manipulative, it was originally designed to protect bees from their enemies.
“The genesis to look at the problem was really about developing technology to help keep varroadestructor mite out of Australia,” he said.
“Varroa is a terrible blight on the beekeeping industry around the world and Australia at this stage is lucky enough to be the only country left on the planet that doesn’t have it.