Bees are the unsung heroes of our planet.
Without them we would not have most foods we enjoy, in fact, bees are so important to our livelihood, nearly two-thirds of Australia’s agricultural production benefits from bee pollination. This includes most of the crops we eat, but also many that feed farm livestock.1
And yes, bees are vital to the vineyard, but not how you might think…
Bees are essential to pollination, this is true. But grape vines do not need them… Yes, you read correctly. You see, grapevines self-pollinate, meaning they do not require external pollination… they have sex! Unlike many plants, grapevines are hermaphroditic (meaning they have both male and female reproductive organs) and can fertilize themselves (via wind).2
This then begs the question, why do many vineyards have/need beehives or employ beekeepers? And the answer is remarkably simple; the bee’s chief role in a vineyard is to create a diverse ecosystem. Grape vines are a monoculture – growing one type of crop at one time in a specific area (i.e. a vineyard). The concern with monocultures is the depletion of soil nutrients since the crop isn’t rotated, and in this instance, grape vines can be in the same place for decades; (case in point, the Shiraz that goes into our William Frederick Shiraz comes from vines planted 95 years ago and our Mackenzie William 1896 Riesling, which could be the oldest Riesling vineyard in Australia are 126 years old – both with no sign of slowing down!).
Enter our bee friends. The use of cover crops, inter-row crops and an organic weed management system means bees can support the vineyard ecosystem to flourish. Many are planted for their nitrogen balancing properties and increase organic matter3 in the soils and while that is a blog post in itself, consider the connection between healthy soils, healthy vines and exceptional fruit… it’s a no brainer really.
Beyond their pollinating superpower, bees also act as the muscle to open the door for other insects who are natural predators of vineyard pests (you’re imagining a lady bug in armour aren’t you… if you weren’t, you are now!). This reduces the need for human intervention, allowing the ecosystem to balance and maintain itself.
Bees really are essential to so much more than we realize – pollination, ecosystem diversity, cuteness in your garden, the list goes on.
We will be toasting you wee bees today and every day and we thank you for your (often unacknowledged) hard work!
-Chloë, Brockenchack’s marketing coordinator and resident wine/vine nerd.