By Sandra Tuszynska
Australia has over 1500 identified native bee species. Only about 16 of these are social bees, living in extended family systems. The rest are solitary or semi-social bees and they are essential pollinators of native plants as well as food crops.
In Australia, hydroponic tomatoes are grown in greenhouses, reducing pesticide and water use, while producing better quality and tastier tomatoes, worth $90 million per year. However, tomato pollen is contained within capsules that need to be vibrated in order to release the pollen. The greenhouse tomato industry thus uses electrically vibrating wands to release tomato pollen, costing $16 000 per hectare per year.
Unlike Honey bees, which are ineffective in tomato pollination, European bumblebees vibrate their strong muscles to dislodge pollen, by shaking or buzzing flowers during pollination. For this reason, the agricultural industry wants to introduce European bumblebees to Australia. However, there is strong opposition to the introduction of European bumblebees, as this raises environmental and quarantine concerns. In Tasmania bumblebees compete for limited resources with at least two species of native bees, displacing them from their habitat.
Fortunately the Australian Blue Banded Bees are also buzz pollinators and these blue beauties have been shown to outperform the current buzzing technology used in tomato pollination. Adelaide University Research has shown that a single buzz from a Blue Banded Bee produces 11% heavier tomatoes, compared with those vibrated by a single buzz from an electric vibration wand. Bee buzzed tomatoes also contain significantly more seeds. Tomato flowers subjected to unlimited buzzes by a Blue Banded Bee were shown to produce 24% heavier tomatoes, than those buzzed by the electric wand. Blue Banded Bee pollinated tomato plants on average produced 20-24% greater yield, than conventionally used electric wand pollination.
It is beneficial to supply a variety of flowers that attract Blue Banded Bees, if you want the best yield from your tomatoes and other produce. They especially love blue and purple flowers. You can grow the following plants near your tomatoes, capsicums, eggplants and kiwi fruit:
Basil (perrential and/or sweet)
Mountain devil or Honey flower
Australian Native Blue Baned Bees http://bluebandedbees.com/flowers.htm
Dollin, A. (2006). Blue banded bee pollination trials at Adelaide Uni. Aussie Bee Online, 10, 1-2.