The Birds and the Bees and Canola

Honey bee collecting pollen on canola flower

By Harry Brook

There is a lot of talk about bees and pollination and modern agriculture. In canola production, they can work hand in hand. With hybrid canola production in Southern Alberta, producers use both honeybees and leaf cutter bees to boost canola seed yield. Bees are essential for hybrid seed production as they transfer the pollen from the male plants to the female plants. With bees, hybrid canola seed yield increases by 13%. They also reduce blooming time by 17%.

Canola is a particularly good food source for bees. The flowers are very attractive to bees and the nectar is easy for the bees to reach. The pollen and nectar are well suited as bee food and is easily obtained by the bees. There are benefits to commercial canola production with the use of bees. It can increase canola seed yield and provides high quality honey to the beekeeper. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership.

Canola can be fertilized a number of ways. Pollen, blown by wind, can fertilize the flowers. In windy parts of the province, wind is the primary cause of flower fertilization. Another large player in flower pollination is carried out by insects. There is a difference from variety to variety as to their dependency on insects for fertilization. Due to the very adaptable abilities of canola, a shortage of pollinators, early on, can result in more branches and flower production by the plant. Canola can compensate for environmental stresses by flowering longer and branching more. However, this leads to an extended maturity and sometimes multi-staged crops. Using bees as pollinators can provide more fertilized pods on the main stem and a tighter maturity, not dragging it out.

Having beehives around the outside edge of the field can improve yields close to the hives. Bees, like the rest of us, are relatively lazy, and will not fly great distances if food is close by. The effect of bees on yield drops off steeply as you move further from the hive. Actually, the benefit is not just from bees, but from bush patches and field margins that contain a diversity of flowering plants and insects. Female leaf cutter bees are better pollinators of canola than honeybees or male leaf cutter bees. Native bumblebees work longer hours than other bees and work under colder temperature. There is an advantage to having multiple insect species in and around the field. A greater diversity of pollinators will provide their pollination services in different conditions and provide a more complete flower fertilization no matter what the environmental conditions.

On the honey side, canola honey is a very high quality honey, light in colour and often used to upgrade darker honey from other flowers. It has a mild flavour, which is also in demand from consumers.

The biggest risk to bees and bee health is when insecticides are applied to fields containing hives. If warned, beekeepers can protect their bees from harm, but it does require good communication between the beekeeper and farmer.

Having honeybees in your canola can be a benefit to both the farmer and the beekeeper. Working together, they can both prosper and, who doesn’t like a little honey on their toast? Below is a video on honeybees, and information on an upcoming webinar on bees and beekeeping.

Harry Brook is Flagstaff County’s Agricultural Fieldman. He can be reached via email at: or by phone at: 780-384-4138. 

Rocky View County is hosting a webinar via Zoom on Wednesday, March 3, 2021, titled: Beekeeping 101. For more information, click HERE.