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Bees and the raspberry revolution (1)

Bees and the raspberry revolution

For those who saw him somewhere en route from Andover to London on a sunny day in May last year Paul probably still is a good dinner party story – or rather that car that was driven by a guy in a full beekeeper’s outfit, including hat, veil and gloves. But then Paul drives a hatchback and though he’d sealed the hive carefully, you never know....

Paul is a friend and seasoned beekeeper with several colonies and this swarm was to move into my husband’s first ever, new and very beautiful hive at the bottom of our garden. The ladies, as the bees are referred to in our household, settled into their new home with ease, spent the afternoon exploring the garden and started the raspberry revolution.

There are about a dozen raspberry plants in our garden, different varieties with fruit ripening throughout the summer and well into autumn. Until last year picking the few that had just turned dark red and eating them straight away was the treat for having emptied the compost bin or doing some other minor chore. Once the ladies had moved in the raspberry bushes went into assembly line production mode and we had to devote serious time to picking them. Don’t get me wrong, dealing with a raspberry glut – from making jam to Eton mess – is a delight.

Of course I knew that bees pollinate plants. Everyone does. It took last summer’s raspberry revolution to turn this theoretical knowledge into a sweet, juice-dripping, red-stained, sensory, quantifiable reality.

And it’s not just the raspberries. Dr Stefan Mandl, a soil scientist at Vienna University, has brought together the results of numerous studies comparing crop yields in relation to acreage and the number of bee colonies. In an apple orchard with bees in residence 65% of all apple blossoms will develop fruit, without bees it’s just 10%.

With pears bees will triple the yield.

In rapeseed fields Dr Mandl found that the presence of bees on average tripled the number of seeds per pod. ‘EU pesticide ban to save bees may curb rapeseed production’ – was a Reuters headline in May 2013. The flea beetle is being named as the pest in rapeseed fields that can be targeted most efficiently by spraying with neonicotinoids. The yield increase farmers can expect if bees survive their excursions pollinating rapeseed plants is not being mentioned. It’s high time to do so during the consultation on the National Pollinator Strategy. There is scientific proof of what immense contribution bees make to crop yields – from A as in apple to Z in zucchini. Not to mention raspberries...

In case you read German – here’s the link to a summary of Dr Stefan Mandl’s comparative study.