The 2019 growing season is upon us. This time of year is eagerly awaited by everyone involved with agriculture. In particular, the short 4-6 week window of almond bloom is a critical time in which growers and beekeepers need the strongest, most populous hives available. When February and March are cold, overcast and rainy the need is even greater due to reduced flight hours. If each day of bloom has only a few hours of ideal conditions for bee flight, hives with a greater number of bees are especially important because they send out more foraging bees in that window, and can still get the job done. Blooming cover crops mixes, like the ones provided by the Seeds for Bees® program, do an excellent job of boosting the pollination potential of each hive by increasing the duration, diversity, and density of available nutrition.
Many producers see cover crops playing a significant role in helping them achieve their goals of improving soil quality, pollinator health and economic viability. Participants in the Seeds for Bees® program now realize having blooming cover crops before and during the bloom of their cash crop creates a positive feedback loop within the hive. This positive feedback loop helps ensure healthy bees for pollination. As pollen is brought back to the hive, the queen lays eggs. In three days, the eggs hatch into larvae. The immature larvae, what beekeepers call ‘brood’, secretes a pheromone that drives adult foragers to go find more protein, in the form of pollen. The smell of the brood pheromone is the hive’s way of communicating the urgency in which bees need to collect resources to support the next generation of bees. As an example, researchers from Oregon State University gave hives synthetic brood pheromone, and observed more flower visitations and higher yields in hybrid carrot seed production than hives without the pheromone.1 Preliminary results from an Almond Board of California funded study conducted by Dr. Elina Niño displays the impact this phenomenon has on Seeds for Bees cover crops in or near almond orchards.2 She found that hives in orchards with access to the PAm Mustard Mix were on average three frames more populous than hives without access to supplemental forage. Enrolling in the Seeds for Bees® program and planting bee forage cover crops is a great way to get more brood pheromone in the hives you rent for pollination, giving them a boost before the bloom.
As almond growers are finding it increasingly difficult to get beekeepers with reliably strong colonies, beekeepers are facing greater challenges to keep their hives alive. Varroa mites and loss of habitat/poor nutrition are two of the biggest health threats honey bees face in modern beekeeping. To help mitigate other stressors to their bees, beekeepers often look for orchards with supplemental sources of forage for their bees. Planting cover crops that will bloom before and after almonds can help growers attract high-quality beekeepers with healthy hives. Some beekeepers even give growers a discounted rental rate for hives if there is access to supplemental sources of food. In order to ensure pollination security now and into the future, beekeepers and growers must work together to find solutions and overcome challenges. Seeds for Bees is a solution that benefits both.
Benefits of Cover Crops
Enhances Honey Bee Health and Vitality
In 2018, the National Honey Board, The Almond Board of California, Project Apis m., and Collaborate up united to illuminate the symbiotic relationship between honey bees and the agricultural industry in the inspiring new documentary “The Job Swap Experiment.” The film puts almond growers and beekeepers in each other’s shoes, offering a firsthand look at what each industry does to protect bees. The film features growers, beekeepers, crop advisors and hive management advisors, who use their expertise in insects to provide insight into pollinators and all that they do for our food. Visit: ProjectApism.org/forage-videos, or the National Honey Board’s YouTube channel to view this film.
If you have any questions, please visit https://www.projectapism.org/seeds-for-bees.html or call Billy Synk at (916) 287-3035. He will gladly answer questions about the enrollment process and give management advice throughout the life of the cover crop.