Term 4 – Week 6 – Birds & Bees

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This week there was a different topic everyday. On Monday we completed our tractor skills theory. I passed the theory test so I’ll be allowed to take one for a spin shortly, woohoo!

Bees:

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Inside the hive

Bees play an important role in horticulture – pollination. Even plants that self-pollinate seem to do better when bees pollinate them as well. Many crops must be pollinated by bees or they won’t produce anything, especially kiwifruit.

The cherry orchard at Bannockburn Road, which is 1 hectare, had 12 hives during the flowering period. They cost $140 each for 3 weeks. Beekeeping can be a pretty good business if you want to get into it. One hive can produce 50kg of honey a year, or up to 100kg if it’s a really good year. The thyme honey made here in Central Otago is very popular in Asia.

Bee’s life cycle and division of labour is really fascinating. The queen is the only fertile female. Her only job is to lay all the eggs but will only mate once at the start of her reign, and won’t leave the hive again. Although that’s her only job, possibly her more important function is producing a pheromone that keeps the hive happy and in control. Without it the bees could swarm. If she’s an angry queen the rest of the bees will be aggressive as well. A beekeeper will replace a queen if that’s the case. A queen will usually be replaced every 1 – 2 years anyway to keep the pheromone levels up and reduce the chance of a swarm.

The drones are the only male bees. There are only a few of them and they don’t have any duties except waiting around for a new queen to mate with. In commercial beehives this never happens since beekeepers will replace the old queen with one who has already mated. In winter, or if food is scarce, the worker bees will force the drones out of the hive. Poor old drones.

The worker bees are all sterile females. They are the ones getting stuff done! They will live for 4 – 9 months over winter but only around 6 weeks over summer. The first few weeks will be spent in the hive caring for larvae and the queen, storing pollen, making wax etc. Then for the last few weeks they will be out collecting water, pollen and nectar. Some of them will also be guard bees, guarding the hive: fanning bees, keeping the hive cool: robbing bees, stealing any honey they can find.

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Worker bee in action

Bird Management:

Birds can do a lot of damage to fruit crops. They will swoop in once fruit starts to ripen. This is particularly problematic for fruit that ripens on the tree like cherries and grapes. Apples and apricots are picked mature, but not ripe, so they have less to fear from birds.

Cherries will need protection from the 1st of December and grapes from February onwards. Birds are active from sun up to sun down but are more of a problem during their natural feeding times: 6.30am – 10am and again 4pm – 8.30pm.

The worst birds for fruit damage in New Zealand are:

  1. Starlings – a flocking bird that will bring all their friends
  2. Blackbirds – solitary but smart. They will even burrow under nets
  3. Finches – small therefore hard to shoot and will peck once in each piece of fruit (how annoying!)

In the past growers would use poison to get rid of birds but there is a move away from that style of management. Some places still shoot birds but that can be easier said than done on some properties, especially if there are neighbours! Also nets and other facilities can get in the way.

Bird damage is worse around the edges of a crop, so smaller plantings are at more risk. Nets are probably the best option and can limit damage to about 5%. They are really expensive though, about $60k per hectare.

Other management techniques include:

  • Shooting birds
  • Removing tall trees from the property so they have nowhere to roost
  • Gas guns to scare them away with the noise
  • Mirrors/lights
  • Bird Guard – a speaker system that emits bird distress calls (extremely loud and horrible, I couldn’t work in a place with that noise!)
  • Reflective ticker tape – birds don’t like the flickering light
  • Self launching kites shaped like hawks to scare other birds away

New technology is coming into this area. Drones could be used and there’s a product called Agrilaser that shoots a laser at birds that makes them fly away.

We used a much simpler technique to get the birds out of the cherry orchard – making as much noise as possible and chasing them out of the netted area.

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Shedding cherries

While we were in the cherry orchard I noticed some of the cherries weren’t looking too healthy. You can see some in the above photo look quite shriveled. Apparently this is a normal part of the process, if more flowers have pollinated than the tree can sustain some cherries will shed now, leaving the remaining fruit to get all the energy the tree can provide.

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Grafted apple tree – success!

I checked in on the grafted apple trees this week. They are going quite well. Lots of buds have pushed and there is new growth.

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Young cherry trees – UFO system

They young cherry trees are looking good. The posts and wires will go in soon so they can be tied down. Once that happens the side shoots should start to grow up. The swarth could do with a mow…

This week the weather has really packed in. Windy and rainy every day. The hills around Cromwell and Alexandra are finally green! The thyme is flowering everywhere giving the landscape a purple flush of colour.

Last week’s weather:

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