Nobody works harder at the San Bernardo Greenhouse in Zarcero than the bumblebees. The rotund insects flit from one tomato plant to the next. Pollen sticks to their legs as they invade yellow flowers in search of nectar.
Milena Chinchilla plucks one of the tiny grape tomato flowers and inspects it for bites. These are her bumblebees, and she wants to make sure the buzzing bugs are getting the job done. She looks for tiny bite marks on the flower, a sign that the busy bees have been nibbling and, therefore, pollinating the plant. While searching for nectar, the pollen sticks to the legs of the bee and is carried to the next tomato flower, fertilizing the plant.
Chinchilla works for a company known as Reflex, a distributor for Koppert, a Dutch company that breeds biological controls. These controls – bees or predatory insects – help fertilize plants or control outbreaks of pests in a manner that is more in tune with nature.
This type of natural fertilization performed by the bumblebees can have major benefits for the tomato farm.
“The pollination of the fruit causes the fruit to have a better taste. Better weight and more seeds,” said Paulo Blanco, president of the Producers Association in Zarcero’s Protected Environment (Apromeco), which has 16 enormous greenhouses in Zarcero.
A higher number of seeds means larger, rounder tomatoes, Blanco explained. The heavier the tomato the more they can be sold for in the United States, where all of Apromeco´s tomatoes are sent.
Although not organic (pesticides that don’t harm the desired insects are sometimes used), Reflex and other biological control companies intend to limit pests by letting Mother Nature do most of the work. Pesticides can lead to bugs building up a resistance to chemicals throughout multiple life cycles. Biological controls eliminate that possibility.
For more on this story, see the August 13 print or digital edition of The Tico Times.