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Bee Box July/August 2010 , From ProjectApis m

Christi Heintz and Meg Ribotto

The relationship between the almond grower and the beekeeper is just as important as the symbiotic connection between the almond flower and the honey bee. The flower and the bee enjoy a cooperative, mutually beneficial rapport. The honey bee needs the pollen and nectar from flowers for food and sustenance and the flower needs the honey bee for pollination and reproduction. They need each other. The grower is dependent on the beekeeper to deliver healthy colonies for the almond bloom. To ensure this mutual relationship, let us look at so me ways that almond growers can help beekeepers in the pollination process of their crops.

Nutrition. Scientists have emphasized that malnutrition may be playing a key role in the decline of colonies due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Bees can suffer from a compromised immune system related to poor nutrition. It’s summer now and bees are pollinating other crops or perhaps making honey from sweet clover or other forage. But come late summer and fall, and certainly before almond bloom in February and March, forage is limited. Growers could help by planting a flowering plant within younger orchards, o n the perimeter of fields and orchards, or on land that they are not utilizing for agricultural production. Depending on location and time of year, mustard or vetch are examples of possible cover crops beneficial to bees. Before and after almond bloom, California can seem like desert to honey bees. Nutrition is vital.

Water. Just as important as food, and somewhat underplayed, is water. When honey bees are placed within your orchard, work with your beekeeper on identifying a potable water source for the bees to avoid dehydration. Also consider that pesticides, fungicides and fertilizer may drift into a water source, so locate or provide easily-accessible clean water.

Hive placement within the orchard. Growers should be cognoscente in providing a place for the colonies which is mutually agreeable to both the grower and the beekeeper. The distribution of the hives should be convenient and accessible at all hours to the beekeeper and their vehicles for placement, servicing and removal of hives. Orchard roads should be maintained and routinely graded for easy access. If your orchard is difficult to get into, beekeepers may charge you more. Allow for hive placement in areas not p rone to flooding or shade. Eastern and southern exposures are better for morning sun and warmer temperatures so bees will fly sooner in the day. Lastly, let nature do her part with minimum interruption. Allow hive placement that limits human and honey bee interaction.

Fungicide applications. Growers need to protect their crop while at the same time keeping in mind the health of the honey bee that is doing the pollinating work. Let your beekeeper know when you are spraying and the products you are using. Honey bees come in contact with agricultural sprays in different ways. They may fly through the fungicide, the fungicide may drift to the hives, or bees may collect and bring into the hive pollen that contains fungicide residue. If possible, spray when bees are not flying or when pol len is not being produced by the tree. Later in the day and at night are best for applying fungicides while still considering exposure to honey bees.

Pollination contracts. While the honey bee and the almond flower have an unspoken agreement, it is best that the grower and the beekeeper have a written contract. Growers should line up contracts early for the following year. Beekeepers who know they have a solid almond pollination contract in hand will be more likely to invest money in the supplemental feed necessary to insure strong colonies for the early almond pollination season. When the colonies arrive at almond bloom, make sure you are getting what you contracted for. Eight frames or better is optimum. Consider an objective third party inspection, and then give your beek eeper a reasonable window to provide additional colonies, if needed. Walk the orchards during favorable flight hours and weather and make sure you see plenty of bee activity, including numerous bees coming and going from the hive entrances. Note and report on any inactive hives.

Visit Project Apis m.’s website at Under Downloads you will find a pollination contract template. Your crop is important and pollinating your crop is important. The honey bee and the almond flower, by nature, already have it all figured out. These few simple guidelines above can improve your relationship with your beekeeper, your pollination potential, and your crop.

Christi Heintz and Meg Ribotto are with Project Apis m. a non-profit bee research organization. Should you have comments on this article or suggestions for other management practices for growers renting bees, please contact us at [email protected] This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it .
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