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Last Updated: Wednesday, 20 April 2005, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Busy bees fast-track strawberry crop
By Martin Cassidy
BBC Northern Ireland rural affairs correspondent

Imported bees quickly distribute pollen from flower to flower
Imported bees quickly distribute pollen from flower to flower
Irish strawberry growers have cracked the lucrative early market by importing bumble bees from the Netherlands to pollinate the crop.

Down in Ballinderry in south Antrim, the strawberry plants are flowering early this year.

And in just a few weeks, the strawberry beds lining the greenhouses should be hanging heavy with fruit.

But all that depends on pollination.

Most Irish bees are only beginning to stir at this time of the year.

But the strawberry growers have looked abroad for a solution and now ship in mobile hives of bumble bees all the way from Europe.

Grower Joanne Best explained the vital role the bee plays: "Pollination involves the bee going into the centre of the flower and after it has pollinated the plant, the flower keeps on developing and the petals fall off.

"That is where the fruit stems from - that is the actual strawberry in the centre," she said.

'Pollinate entire greenhouse'

It's mid-morning in the strawberry greenhouse and the temperature is rising thanks to the bright April sunshine.

The heat is very much to the bees' liking and the inhabitants of the brightly coloured cardboard hive are stirring.

Soon, the greenhouse is humming as the bees set about their work on the rows of strawberries, quickly distributing pollen from flower to flower.

Joanne Best will be picking fruit for supermarket order
Joanne Best will be picking fruit for supermarket order

The busy bee's reputation is well deserved and this hive, which houses just 50 bees, is sufficient to pollinate the entire greenhouse.

The greenhouse door is left open so the bees can venture into the open, but it is the early strawberry blooms which keep attracting them back.

Just as well too, as the shape of each individual strawberry depends on proper pollination.

In just a few weeks, Joanne Best will be picking the fruit for a lucrative supermarket order and says that only perfectly shaped fruit will do.

"If the bee doesn't do its job, the strawberry can be very square at the bottom or have an awful lot of creases or be totally misshapen and then they are very hard to sell," she says.

Back at the hive, the bees are returning from another foraging mission. One by one they enter their cardboard home.

Soon their work in the strawberry fields will be done, leaving them free to link up with the indigenous bumble bee population.

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