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The two types of beekeeping  that most people know are hobby and commercial beekeeping.  Hobby beekeeping refers to those who own a few hives and keep bees for fun, or for a small profit.  This is also called backyard beekeeping or urban beekeeping. Commercial beekeepers have a lot of beehives and keep bees primarily for profit.  

But there’s another type of beekeeping that has a huge impact on the produce we eat.  Migratory beekeeping is responsible for the pollination of many of the fruits and vegetables we consume daily.  

What is Migratory Beekeeping?

Migratory beekeeping refers to beekeepers who travel across the country with their many beehives in order to pollinate crops.  While most beekeepers aim to harvest honey, migratory beekeepers main objective is pollination. Many crops, such as almonds depend on migratory beekeeping in order to produce a good harvest.  

Without migratory beekeeping agriculture around the world would suffer.  These farmers cannot simply depend on the wind to pollinate their crops. They need bees in order to thrive.  

Take almonds, for example.  Bees are responsible for pollinating 80% of the world’s almonds.  A 2007 study found that 35% of the food in the world is a result of animal pollinators.  Taking that into account, you can see why migratory beekeeping is important. 

How Migratory Beekeeping Works

Any beekeeper knows that moving a beehive is not easy or fun.  So how do migratory beekeepers move hundreds of hives all over the country?  It starts on a pallet. Migratory beekeepers keep their hives on pallets at all times.  Usually 4 hives can fit on one pallet. These are called four-ways.  

The pallets are moved onto giant flatbed trucks by a forklift.  These trucks can hold hundreds of colonies at a time. The hives and pallets are then secured down, and they are on their way to their next destination.  

Some migratory beekeepers travel to a few nearby states, while others go across the country several times.  To plan out where they are going, they follow the honey flow and regional growing cycles.  

Honey Flow

Honey flow refers to a time when resources like nectar and pollen are abundant for bees.  It is a special time that is optimal for bees to be out foraging. Honey flow is triggered by blooming flowers, so to predict honey flow you must also follow regional growing cycles.  Summer and Spring are the 2 seasons where you will find honey flow.  

In February, many migratory beekeepers head out to California’s Central Valley to pollinate almond trees.  80 billion bees will be working hard there, pollinating trillions of flowers that will later become almonds. 

The next stop is to nearby California orchards to pollinate plums, avocados, and cherries.  Then Washington State has apple orchards that need pollinating. During the summer, North and South Dakota have ample sunflower and alfalfa fields to pollinate.  

Florida requires pollinators for their orange and tangerine orchards, while blueberries are pollinated in Maine.  Before their job is done, bees pollinate squash, pumpkins, and cranberries. During the winter, the bees retire to a warmer state like Florida or California to wait out the winter.  

Crops That Benefit From Migratory Beekeeping

  • Almonds
  • Apples
  • Plums
  • Cherries
  • Alfalfa
  • Clovers
  • Sunflowers
  • Blueberries
  • Cranberries
  • Watermelon
  • Cantalope
  • Cucumbers
  • Pumpkins
  • Peppers
  • Lettuce

Is Migratory Beekeeping Good For Bees?

Bees that take part in migratory beekeeping do have an advantage.  While some bees struggle to forage for resources, these bees are always in the midst of a honey flow.  For them, pollen and nectar is always abundant.  

However, the drawback is that they have to move around so much, and that is stressful for them.  Too much stress can cause the colony to lose their queen. Another problem is that their hives are kept in such close proximity.  Being so close can cause mites and disease to spread.  

Migratory Beekeeping and Colony Collapse Disorder

Another issue that is always a problem for honeybees is pesticides.  Nowadays, most crops are treated with one or more pesticides. With the bees going from one crop to another, they are constantly being exposed to these harmful chemicals.  

Exposure to pesticides is known to weaken the bees immune systems.  That, plus varroa mites and other diseases is thought to contribute to colony collapse disorder (CCD).  

Is there a solution to this?  Researchers believe that native bee species such as mason bees, cuckoo bees, and metallic sweat bees can help.  

Before migratory beekeeping, native bees pollinated all wild plants and crops.  But with monoculture, native bees are not able to get the variety of nutrients they need.  Then, when these honeybees are brought in they have tough competition for food.  

Researchers believe that restoring wild habitat by planting wildflowers and native flowering plants will make a great impact.  These plants would offer more for both native and honey bees to eat, which means healthier bees all around.  

In the end though, without migratory beekeepers our crops would greatly suffer, which would have a negative effect on our food supply.  We should be thankful to the many bees who contribute so much to our everyday lives.

Summary

Migratory beekeeping is raising bees with the goal of traveling to multiple honey flows to pollinate crops.  Hundreds of beehives are kept on pallets and loaded onto large flatbed trucks. There are advantages and disadvantages to migratory beekeeping.  Planting more wildflowers and native plants can help increase bee health.  

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