BEEKEEPER NEWSLETTER . . . . . . March 5, 2019
2019 Almond Season - This was the worst season, weather-wise, for bee activity during almond bloom in the past 50 years. Honey bee colonies don’t get active until temperatures exceed 55 degrees (F). For most of the bloom, temperatures were in the low 50s, rarely exceeding 55. Sporadic rains during bloom further limited bee flight. In spite of these adverse conditions, strong bee colonies packed in good amounts of almond pollen and growers in the San Joaquin Valley that rented strong colonies have a very good set of almonds. The set doesn’t look quite as good in the colder, wetter Sacramento Valley. Most southern growers should have a very good crop, barring excessive drop of pollinated nutlets; warm, sunny days are needed to minimize nutlet drop, and current forecasts aren’t encouraging. There is also potential for frost damage through April. We’ll have a better handle on crop size in May. If San Joaquin Valley growers that rented strong bee colonies come up with a short crop this year, it won’t be due to insufficient pollination.
Bee Removal - Pollination is completed on Nonpareil and other early blooming varieties – little or no pollen remains in these orchards which comprise about 80% of CA almond acreage. Pollination will be completed on the later-blooming hardshell varieties in a few days. Almond flowers don’t secrete nectar until after they have been pollinated; any bee activity in orchards now, and in recent days, is from nectar-collecting bees which are of no benefit to almond growers. There can be as much as a 10 day difference in release time between growers with orchards in identical stages of petal fall; we don’t argue with slow-release growers. Growers that believe that nectar-collecting bees rob developing nutlets of needed carbohydrates release bees earlier than most and can push hard for early bee removal (we do know one such grower). Beekeepers that have no place to go with their bees until SJ Valley citrus blooms in April are in no hurry to leave almond orchards and sometimes overstay their welcome.
Fungicides - With predictions of continued rain, and with warmer rains, all growers are applying fungicides to their trees. Jacket rot (where water collects in the base of the jackets that surround developing nutlets) has caused major crop losses in the past. Fungicide applications are more hazardous to bees when there is pollen on the flowers since bee larvae can be harmed by consuming contaminated pollen. Fungicide applications at this time are less hazardous but can still harm bees by direct contact. Don’t be surprised if you see fungicide spraying when you come to pick up your bees. If, after you get them home, you feel your bees have been set back by fungicides, let me know.
New Almond Plantings - Significant CA restrictions on ground water pumping may slow down planting of new almond orchards. Our wet February-March has filled CA reservoirs and has eased the concerns of growers that depend on surface water. Drought cycles are inevitable in CA as are reduced surface water allotments in dry years. Many orchards are reaching the end of their economic life (15 to 20 years) and acreage of these old trees scheduled to be pulled out could come close to the acreage of new plantings.
Self-fertile Almond Varieties - Self-fertile almond varieties need maybe only ½ colony/acre since pollen has to be moved only few millimeters (from flower anthers to the flower stigma) instead of 22’ between variety rows. The self-fertile Independence variety from the Dave Wilson Nursery now comprises about 150,000 acres out of over a million CA almond acres but Independence plantings have slowed as some growers feel that current varieties are still the best choice. Other nurseries are developing self-fertile varieties, as is UC, Davis but it will be 20 to 40 years before most CA almond varieties are self-pollinating.
Beekeeping Trends – Low honey prices are causing more beekeepers to focus on increasing colony numbers for almond pollination rather than trying to make a honey crop every year – it’s difficult to do both. Winter-storage buildings for bees, with closely controlled temperature and CO2, are becoming more popular and give better control of varroa. In the future, look for most almond bees to be those that have spent most of the winter in such buildings. Do your homework, and talk to those with experience, before considering storage buildings as there can be costly pitfalls.
Costs to Maintain Bee Colonies - Eric Mussen’s classic graph on page 3 of his Jan/Feb 2010 Newsletter, From the UC Apiaries showed annual costs of $200/colony or more to supply 8-frame colonies of bees to almond growers – these were 2009 figures; costs would be higher today. I’d be interested in your cost figures if you are able to supply them
Author: Joe Traynor.
Joe Traynor is a Beekeeper of over 50 years. Since 1973, Joe has owned and operated Scientific Ag. Co., which is both a pollination service modeled after Valley Pollination Service, and a consultation service in soil fertility and plant nutrition. Joe is a former and founding board member of Project Apis m., and his contributions to honey bee health and almond pollination best management practices are legendary.
Joe publishes newsletters periodically, but this issue is especially interesting having come through such a hard almond pollination season. You can read more about Joe and find a rich resource of articles and newsletter written by him here