April 4, 2017
As the world’s largest pollination event, the California almond bloom, comes to a close, beekeepers everywhere are asking themselves one question: Where do I take my bees now? As spring turns to summer here in California the foraging opportunities become more scarce. Surely there are pollination-for-hire jobs that beekeepers can try to fill. But the number of these contracts is limited and can’t support our nation’s 2.5 million colonies. Even if it were easy to find, the nutrition provided by some of these crops is of poor quality (e.g., blueberry 13%-14% protein). Historically, middle America has served as a summer vacation spot for many hives. Bees that have worked hard pollinating almonds get shipped to America’s heartland to get fat and happy. In fact, 75% of the nation’s honey bee colonies are found in just 8 states in the summer.
Places like North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Nebraska and Missouri used to have far more bee supportive flowers than they do now. Bees are under enough stress as it is. Year round, they are getting fed on by varroa mites that transfer disease. Interestingly, research indicates access to diverse, nutritious forage actually helps bees’ natural immune systems and has a direct impact on pollinator health (Alaux et al. 2010). This is why it’s alarming when vast amounts of forage in the upper Midwest and great plains regions disappear. From 2008-2011 alone, 23 million acres of grasslands have been destroyed and converted into cropland. This means there is now less land to support bee health, honey production, monarch butterflies, songbirds, pheasants, quail and wildlife, in general. The need for more forage is urgent!