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How to Keep Bees in a Greenhouse: A Step-by-Step Guide

What would the purpose be of keeping bees in a greenhouse?

Keeping bees in a greenhouse is simple: Growers purchase the bees, which arrive in a box.  After giving the box some time to climatize, the door is opened. The bees will then fly from flower to flower, retrieving pollen and distributing pollen among the plants.

Bees that are kept in greenhouses are used to pollinate the plants. This method is by far the most effective and time-efficient way to pollinate greenhouse plants.  Bees will work diligently every day to pollinate the blossoms of fruits and vegetables. Using bumblebees inside your greenhouse to pollinate plants is one way to improve crop quality, increase yield, and reduce labor. Let’s find out the how and why to keep bees in a greenhouse in more detail now.

Will Bees Help your Greenhouse?

Bees in a greenhouse are for pollination purposes only and most likely need to be feed.  If you want to keep bees in a greenhouse to make honey, you need a huge greenhouse with many flowers and plants. 

Keeping bees in your greenhouse will certainly give you better harvests.  If you want to be a successful, productive gardener, having pollinators like bees do some of the work helps a lot.  There are many ways to keep bees and other pollinators in the greenhouse. Here’s how.

Which Bees Works Best in a Greenhouse? Not all bees are created equal

The most often question asked is:  Can you put a beehive in a greenhouse?  We must say no, at least not for honeybees.

The problem with keeping Honeybees in a greenhouse is that they prefer to be outside where they need to experience seasonal temperature fluctuations.  Honeybees get territorial in a greenhouse.  When it is in the middle of winter, a small greenhouse cannot support a large colony of honeybees with enough food sources for them to forage on.

Honeybees form a cluster, eat honey and keep each other warm by flexing their thorax muscles all winter long; they do not hibernate.  Honeybees are more familiar with greenhouse enthusiasts, but they are not great at greenhouse pollination. 

Honeybees cannot survive for long in an enclosed space.  They cannot extract pollen from each plant as efficiently as a bumblebee can.  Honeybees cannot match the same vibration frequency that bumblebees do so efficiently when extracting pollen. 

Bumblebees work best for greenhouses because they have better sight orientation than honeybees, letting them see refracted light.  Bumblebees also fare better in cooler temperatures and a variety of environmental conditions.

Bumblebees are more active at lower temperatures than Honeybees; they work later in the evening and earlier in the morning.  Bumblebees are native to the United States.  A plus in their favor, they are less likely to sting you or your workers. 

Bumblebees and Leafcutter bees are far better candidates to pollinate your greenhouse than honeybees.  Honeybees will often get disoriented inside a greenhouse due to the nature of their vision and fly into the walls, where they then die.

Leafcutter bees are the best greenhouse pollinators because they stay close by and are more efficient pollinators compared to honeybees or bumblebees. Leafcutter bees need a certain kind of plant leaves that they use to make cocoons.  Lilac’s, Peas, Virginia Creeper, or Rose plants are good choices.

Bumblebees are particularly good at pollinating plants like eggplants or tomatoes.  Bumblebees have a long tongue that allows them to work plants that the honeybee can’t. Bumblebees are more efficient pollinators than honeybees.

Honeybees will go for a flower’s nectar to produce honey.  Bumblebees don’t produce honey, so they go after pollen, using only nectar to fuel their flights from plant to plant. 

Honeybees are selective pollinators; they will only work one type of blossom at a time.  So, if more than one plant is in bloom at a time, if the honeybee prefers one plant over the others, the others will go unvisited.   Bumblebees are indiscriminate in their habits and go from one plant to another regardless of their type.

Keeping Bees Inside the Greenhouse for Pollination

Your greenhouse needs to be large enough to accommodate the hives.  Place your beehives evenly around in the greenhouse. Place them a couple of feet above the ground in a pattern among your plants.  If you want, you can place the hives along the perimeter of the plants. 

When you place your hives correctly, the bees will look for the pollen by themselves.

Unfortunately, unlike outdoor hives that can survive for a couple of years, bees that live inside the greenhouse will only live 10 to 12 weeks.

Some can only survive for 6 to 8 weeks.  While honeybees live longer than bumblebees, they are not great pollinators in comparison, so swapping species won’t work.

That’s because they do not buzz pollinate, making them inefficient with some crops grown in greenhouses, like tomatoes.  A bumblebee pollinates a plant’s flower by biting on the plant and then start to vibrate, which transfers enough pollen for pollination.

Do not use any chemical pesticides; they will kill your bees before they get busy. Greenhouse operations should stop using these products before buying bees.

How to Set up a Beehive in Your Greenhouse in 10 Easy Steps

Here are 10 easy steps to set up your greenhouse beehive. The process of establishing a pollination hive in your greenhouse is quite simple.

  1. Buy your colony from a commercial bumblebee breeder.  Important to note bumblebee hive lives for four to twelve weeks max, and after that, the bees in the hive will die.  It is good to get several hives that work for you and add more to the hive every few weeks.
  2. Choose a good location in your greenhouse.
  3. Place the box with the hive in the greenhouse to climatize. The bees will need time to adapt to the environment, so just leave them in the box for a while.  After a while, you can open the box and leave the bees to fly out and start pollinating.  The bumblebees will quickly start to fly around and pollinate the plants.
  4. Make sure your bees have access to sunlight. The hive should be placed on the sunniest side of the greenhouse so that the sun reaches the bees first thing in the morning. Your bees will start working early and be most efficient.
  5. Your bees need a protective shade in case the sun gets too hot.
  6. Give the bees a freshwater source close to the hive.
  7. Make sure your bees have protection from the wind.
  8. Provide some privacy. Avoid placing the bees in areas with high-traffic areas.
  9. Your bees need ventilation. Circulation is important for a greenhouse hive. Put your colony in an area where the greenhouse fans can provide good circulation. It is a good idea to put a wire mesh over the back of your greenhouse fans when pollinating with bees. Because without a barrier, members of your pollination workforce could be sucked into the fan and killed.
  10. During winter, provide a supplemental food source for your bees, like prepackaged nectar, to ensure the survival of the bees.

Benefits of Keeping Bees in a Greenhouse

  • Better fruit. Research confirms that plants pollinated by bees have more vitamins and healthy nutrients than those that were not pollinated by bees.  Using bees as a greenhouse pollinator will also give you a better yield.
  • Less work. Pollination in greenhouses often relies on people doing the job.  However, using bees, you can relax and let them do the work.  Less labor means savings in the long run that are not spent on workers.  Bees are also faster and more efficient than humans.
  • Eco-friendly. Using bees for pollination is more eco-friendly than most methods.  When using bees, you cannot use pesticides. Pesticides are dangerous to bees and will kill them.  When you are pesticide-free, you could market your product as pesticide-free, which is far better and healthier.

Conclusion

Keeping bees in a greenhouse for pollination is a great option for some greenhouses.  Despite its simplicity, the process takes careful consideration.  While bees can live within your greenhouse, you must provide proper conditions to the bees for it to work.  Honeybees don’t do well in greenhouses, but bumblebees are the best.  Honeybees become quickly disoriented in confined spaces and become lost and usually bang themselves against the walls and die.

For the bees to thrive, make sure they have access to the requirements mentioned above.  Maintaining your hives is important and make sure you give your bees everything they need.  Remember that your bees need different types of food, even when the flowers are not blooming.

Using bumblebees to pollinate plants inside your greenhouse is a great way to increase yield, reduce labor, and improve crop quality.  It takes ten times the number of people to hand-pollinate greenhouse crops at the same rate as the bees.  Prioritizing your bee’s health and comfort is key to a thriving greenhouse.

Sources

Frank Pearmain

As a homesteader, survivalist, and previously a safari guide in Africa, I have extensive bush and wilderness experience. I am passionate about living a self-sufficient, off-grid lifestyle and continuously learn and strive toward that goal!

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