They are fat, hairy, and the hardest workers in our fields.

Bumblebees are different to the traditional pollinator, the honey bee, because they work in all kinds of weather and their popularity as a pollinator is increasing.

Freshmax orchard manager Garth Catley said bumblebees can tolerate colder temperatures and can fly in higher winds than honey bees.

For some plum varieties the bumblebee can sometimes make the difference between a good crop and no crop, he said.


"It is always cold in August - we always get rain, frosts and cold temperatures," he said.

"The honey bees still do their job but we find that the bumblebees will operate in a lot cooler temperature.

"So when the honey bees might still be asleep, the bumblebees will be about working."

He didn't have to go far for his bumblebees. Nearby on Omahu Rd in Hastings was Biobees, New Zealand's only specialist bumblebee breeder, selling hives throughout New Zealand and overseas.

A hive was saleable after four to six weeks from the queen laying eggs, with many going to undercover growing operations - another working condition honey bees didn't like.

Biobees Manager Lana Bigg said bumblebees were easily more cost effective than honey bees for growers.

Bumblebees would fly in light rain and were superior pollinators. They used a technique called 'buzz pollination', gripping a whole flower and vibrating pollen loose from the sac.

But while bumble bees out-pollinate their honey cousins, they don't survive as long.


"Depending on the conditions – what kind of pollens they are collecting and what kind of conditions in the environment – they can last from four to eight weeks," Bigg said.

"They just die off. The queen might survive and if she finds somewhere nice for her to start laying eggs, a new colony will emerge."

Bumblebees wouldn't fly as far as honey bees and were poor communicators, making it less likely a crop would be abandoned for richer pickings in a nearby paddock.

This crop loyalty aids in Biobees' 'Flying Doctor' service.

"Plants have different diseases and they can bring different treatments to them," Bigg said.

But bumblebees have one drawback - they could sting repeatedly, like a wasp.

At Biobees, when a bumblebee broke free, they turned on a red light which the bees couldn't see, forcing them to land and be collected and returned to mum.

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