Apple orchardists in Himachal worry after unseasonal rain and snow kill Italian honeybees

Apple, stone fruit growers rent Italian bees from apiarists for pollination of their crops in April

By Rohit Prashar
Published: Monday 24 April 2023
Italian bees kept for pollination died after the temperatures dipped unseasonally. Photo: Rohit Prashar__

Unseasonal rain and snowfall in Himachal Pradesh may have caused huge losses for apple growers. The unexpected meteorological conditions may have ruined apple and other stone fruit crops and have also killed Italian honeybees used for pollination. 

Most bee deaths have been reported from Shimla, Kinnaur, Lahaul Spiti and Kullu districts, which are at an elevation of 2.13 kilometres or above. The State Department of Horticulture has deployed staff in the field to assess the cause of death of bees and their loss.

Read more: Nigeria becomes fourth African nation to join global coalition to protect pollinators

Meanwhile, orchardists estimated losses of about 20 per cent due to weather conditions and lack of proper pollination due to the death of bees. 

The rainfall and snow struck when most stone fruit and apple trees were in the ‘setting’ stage, where flowers start to set into fruits. Bees take pollen from male flowers and pollinate the female flowers at this stage for the fruit setting.

Orchardists take bees on rent for the flower setting stage in April for Rs 1,200 to 2,000 per month.

There are more than 200,000 orchardists in Himachal Pradesh growing apple and stone fruits. Their livelihood is completely dependent on horticulture. Apple business brings in over Rs 4,000 crore to the state every year. 

Rajneesh Bharmata, a farmer from Dashan village in Rohdu, an apple-rich region, told Down To Earth (DTE), “I had kept 300 rented bee boxes in my orchard for pollination of apples, out of which half of the boxes were found dead.

Read more: Early to wake is neither healthy nor wise for bumblebees

Italian bees, also known as Apis mellifera, were first brought to India in 1962 and reared in Nagrota, Himachal Pradesh.

There are no more naturally occurring bees, so apple growers need to rent bees now, Shimla orchardist Jogendra Sharma said. “The temperatures dipped suddenly due to the unseasonal rains and the bees could not feed properly. Most died in the boxes,” he said. 

“I had given my bees to orchardists in Kullu to pollinate their fruit crops,” beekeeper Iqbal Singh Thakur told DTE. “The growers informed me that many bees have died. I do not have an estimate of the deaths yet.”

Some growers also use chemicals during the flowering stage of the trees, which can also kill bees, claimed orchardist Prashant Sehta. 

Bees play an important role in apple production, said Kishore Sharma, assistant professor at Dr Yashwant Singh Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, Nauni. “Growers should maintain bees properly along with their apple trees to avoid damage,” he said. 

Read more: US beekeepers lost 40% honey bee colonies in a year: Survey

Colder weather can be tough for bees, whose rate of work goes down with dipping temperatures, said Kirti Sinha, senior plant protection officer, Department of Horticulture. 

“If the temperature goes below 15 degrees Celsius, bees are unable to work and can survive only for a few days by eating their reserves. If temperatures decrease suddenly, they need to be fed,” she said. 

Sugar syrup and jaggery should be finely ground and kept in the box so that the bees can meet their food requirement, Sinha added. 

Read more:

Subscribe to Daily Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.