Tomatoes need the Blue Banded Bee Buzz

By Sandra Tuszynska

 Blue Banded Bee on its way to pollinate a tomato flower. Image retrieved from http://www.aussiebee.com.au/beesinyourarea.html


A Blue Banded Bee on its way to pollinate a tomato flower. Image retrieved from http://www.aussiebee.com.au/beesinyourarea.html

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.

blue-banded-bee

A Blue Banded Bees approaching an overnight roosting site. Image by Fish Fidler/Flickr. Retrieved from http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/

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.

A blue banded bee  in flight, extending her long multi-part tongue towards a Buddleia flower at Redland City, Queensland. Image retrieved from http://www.aussiebee.com.au/blue-banded-bee-siegel-jul2013.html

A blue banded bee in flight, extending its long multi-part tongue towards a Buddleia flower at Redland City, Queensland. Image retrieved from http://www.aussiebee.com.au/blue-banded-bee-siegel-jul2013.html

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.

Blue Banded Bee love purple flowers. Image retrieved from http://theplanthunter.com.au/uncategorized/bee-hotel/

Blue Banded Bees love purple flowers. Image  by Jane Wilson retrieved from http://theplanthunter.com.au/uncategorized/bee-hotel/

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:


Abelia

Basil (perrential and/or sweet)

Blue-bell creeper

Duranta

Grevillea (Spider-flower)

Flax lily

Hibbertia

Lavender

Lemon Balm

Mona Lavender

Mountain devil or Honey flower

Myrtle

Passion Fruit

Rosemary

Salvia

Scarlet sage

Senna

Verbena

References

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.

About Mt Gravatt Environment Group

Mt Gravatt Environment Group is restoring a unique piece of Australain native bushland only ten minutes from Brisbane CBD.
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One Response to Tomatoes need the Blue Banded Bee Buzz

  1. Great story Sandra. I is good to have solid evidence of the value of our native bees.

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