Habata Agri have a long-standing relationship with a Port Elizabeth company to provide them with bees that are essential in the pollination of their crops.
Bee farmer Kevin Smith makes a trip to the Sundays River Valley company several times a year to ensure his swarms are doing their work with the efficiency for which they are renowned.
His company, Honey Beesness, supplies hundreds of hives and hundreds of thousands of bees to the farming operation.
“Without the bees, we will have no business,” said Habata operations manager Gary Webb about their partnership that stretches over more than a decade.
“Pollination is obviously vital for all our products. For example, a watermelon must be visited by bees at least seven times before it is pollinated properly.
“If that doesn’t happen, you will have a hollow heart or deformed fruit, so we need the bees to be active.”
This is where the partnership plays a big role as Smith ensures the bees stay healthy and stress-free so that they can carry out the pollination effectively.
“Our job is to make sure enough hives are available for the farming operations to get the work done properly,” said Smith.
“We need to make sure the bees are nice and strong, with enough workers.
“We have over 700 hives at Habata, with anything from about 20 000 to 80 000 bees in each hive, depending on its size.”
He added that nothing did the work of pollination better than bees.
“They were created to do that, with the workers collecting the nectar or pollen by visiting all the plants in the area.
“That is essential to the growth of the colony as they produce the bee bread fed to the larvae, which take 21 days to hatch.”
As the bees collect nectar, pollen from the male reproductive organs of the plant stick to their bodies and are transferred to the next plant, fertilising it and allowing the fruit to grow and develop.
Smith said as long as the conditions were right, bees would carry out their work from sunrise to sunset.
“Bees are temperature controlled and work better in summer. They are not too active if the temperature is below 16 degrees Celsius, but if they get too hot they will get stressed and swarm off.”
Smith said the temperature in the hive was around 34 degrees and the bees maintained that by regulating their numbers.
He added that although producers took honey from the hives, they needed to leave enough so that the swarm remained strong.
“You need to know how to invade the bees’ kitchens by leaving enough in their breeding boxes where the larvae are situated, providing them the necessary sustenance to hatch.”
He said there was a danger of diseases, such as American foulbrood, but these could be controlled by making sure the bees did not become distressed and had enough food.
“We go through the hives regularly to check for diseases and to make sure the bees are in good condition.”
Smith said they placed the hives as close as possible to the crops when the flowers were beginning to blossom.
“A bee will fly for many kilometres to find food and they sense where food is available.
“At the end of July and in August you get flying swarms as they search for food and we put out trapping boxes. We can then relocate them in hives and use them where they are needed the most.”
In the end, said Smith, it was the bees who actually ran his business.
“I just co-ordinate things,” he said with a smile.