Even as inclement weather continues in the state the demand for honey bees, a natural pollinating agent, has increased manifold in apple orchards. The unfavorable weather conditions are likely have an adverse impact on apple blossom in orchards situated in the mid and lower altitude areas.
The unseasonal rainfall has lowered temperatures, which is likely to impact apple pollination. Further, the cloudy weather has disturbed wild pollinating agents that include diverse insects like flies, butterflies, moths, beetles.
Honeys bees are the most important carriers of the pollen. Over the years, as new houses in rural areas replaced traditional ones that had the beehives, apple growers started placing bee colonies in their orchards. This time, when the unfavorable weather has caused anxiety among apple growers, demand for honey bee colonies has risen significantly. Apple growers are hiring beehives from Rajasthan, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh.
Earlier in traditional houses there was space to keep indigenous bees- the apis cerana. The cerana is an active bee which is useful in hilly climes but has fewer colonies in orchards. With the appearance of modern houses cerana bee colonies have been unable to increase to meet the requirements of orchards.
After the state horticulture department and the University of Horticulture & Forestry at Nauni urged farmers to use imported species, Apis mellifera, they have adopted bee keeping in a big way, especially in the apple belts. Mellifera, an Italian bee, is not easily available with government agencies, and so other agencies have been providing beehives to growers interested in bee keeping for pollination in orchards.
Dr Harish Sharma, a scientist at Nauni University, said there was a need to preserve and increase the population of cerana bees but, for the purpose of pollination, imported bees were a better alternative. "Growers hire beehives from various states and use them in their orchards from March to May. The climate in Himachal Pradesh isn't suitable for Italian bees throughout the year as temperatures above 11 degrees Celsius are required for bees to function as pollen carriers," he added.
Rajesh Chauhan, an apple grower in Kotkhai who manages bees from Rajasthan, said: "For the past two years I've been managing Italian honey bees for pollination in my orchards and the results have been fairly good."
According to state horticulture department data, there has been a spurt in bee keeping and honey production has gone up to 1,515.29 mt in 2013-14 from 800 mt in 2005-2006.
Besides government bee colonies, individuals have set up their own establishments. There are over 74,000 private bee colonies besides 1,865 in the government sector in the state.