Cotton crops (Clemson, p.196) are a potentially useful source for bee breeding and honey production.
A single sample of cotton pollen indicated a crude protein level of 19.4% (just a little below the 20% ideal crude protein required by honey bees) and a reasonably good essential amino-acid profile, the iso-leucine being 3.9% which is only a little below the 4% required by honey bees (Table 37). Bees are reported to breed well on cotton pollen.
The regular spraying of pesticides on cotton has always kept beekeepers away from this floral source. However, with the advent of integrated pest control methods, short-term field toxicity chemicals, target specific pesticides and reduced spray programs, the potential for cotton being a useful honey and pollen resource is increasing.
Some beekeepers have found that placing the apiary one to two km away from the cotton crop reduces the effect of spray drift. Also, should the field bees be sprayed, they do not bring the pesticide back to the hive, as they die on the way home. The young bees will then forage in the crop within the next few days, continuing to harvest honey and pollen.
It is also advisable to remove the bees from the crop before the changeover to organophosphate sprays occurs within the pyrethroid strategy of cotton growing. This is usually towards the end of the crop. Check with the cotton grower or district agronomist when this changeover period will occur.
The pollen from cotton could be a valuable pollen to collect, although residues of pesticides may make it unsuitable as a human food source.
The nectar production in cotton comes from the flowers, and also from nectaries under the leaves. Beekeepers who have worked cotton report a good honey production of 30 kg to 50 kg of honey per hive.
Table 37: Cotton Gossypium hirsutum
* Low level of this amino-acid
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