The introduction of artificial hives of bumblebees in protected crops of tomatoes dates back to 1988-89; since then, the technique has been refined a great deal, with facets that relate to the various types of tomatoes grown and the different types of crop cycle.
The producers of tomatoes are faced with a problem that is not easy to solve. The tomato flower has physiological and morphological characteristics that make it difficult to pollinate for protected crop production: it does not produce nectar and, even if pollen is produced in large quantities, it has no particular nutritional qualities for pollinating insects, nor is it easy to extract and use due to the shape of the flower.
At this point, growers may consider two different paths to take:
• carry out ventilation to ensure the bud setting of the new flowers produced by the tomato;
• placing artificial hives of bumblebees, bred in bio factories, in greenhouses.
The latter is often the best solution. The bumblebees, by attaching themselves to the flower, produce a kind of vibration (buzz pollination), which results in an abundant release of pollen, part of which is collected by the insect and part of which goes to pollinate the flower. The visited flower shows characteristic marks and is called a “marked flower”: it is the first indication of the bumblebees’ work. This practice is now consolidated in almost all horticultural areas of Europe, Asia and North Africa. In Italy, where tomatoes are cultivated with very different techniques and the same varieties have a high variability with respect to fundamental characteristics such as the aptitude to produce pollen or preferences for humidity and temperature, pollination with bumblebees has taken on a strategic role, developing in-depth knowledge of the different operating contexts and ad hoc intervention methods.