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Posts Tagged: almonds

One Last Look at the Almonds 'n the Bees

A heavy pollen load. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
While other parts of the country are buried in snow, California's Central Valley is just finishing up its almond pollination season.

In actuality, those fragile white petals fluttering to the ground in the Central Valley are a different kind of snow, but the kind that doesn't make you shiver or shovel.

The University of California, Davis, campus is now seeing the last of its dwindling almond blooms. Over on Bee Biology Road, west of the central campus, steady rains are driving the bees 'n blooms away.  

So we took one last look for the buds that first began unfolding in mid-February. The almond trees are leafing out as if to welcome spring.  In a couple more weeks, spring officially arrives (March 20). 

Meanwhile, the California State Beekeepers' Association is busy planning its display at the California Agriculture Day, a farm-to-fork celebration always held near the beginning of spring on the State Capitol grounds. This year it's March 19.  It's when the rural folk meet the city folk. Youths learn that chocolate milk doesn't come from chocolate cows, honey doesn't come from sticks, and beef doesn't originate on a bun at a fast food restaurant.

It's good to see the governor and the state legislators mingle with the farmers, the ranchers, the growers, the 4-H'ers and the FFA'ers.

For one day, the State Capitol lawn virtually turns into the land of milk and honey: the dairy industry hands out cartons of milk and the state beekeepers, sticks of honey.

Best of all, it's good to see a tractor on the steps of the capitol building. That's exactly where it belongs.

Honey bee foraging on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pollen-packing honey bee dives in head first. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Pollen-packing honey bee dives in head first. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Pollen-packing honey bee dives in head first. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Land around an almond tree on Bee Biology Road is being prepared for UC Davis pollination ecology plots. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Land around an almond tree on Bee Biology Road is being prepared for UC Davis pollination ecology plots. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Land around an almond tree on Bee Biology Road is being prepared for UC Davis pollination ecology plots. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, March 3, 2014 at 10:40 PM

An Early Bloomer

You've heard of late bloomers.

How about early bloomers?

A trip to the Benica (Calif.) State Recreational Park on Sunday yielded quite a surprise: a solo blossom on a bare almond tree. 

Almonds don't usually start blooming until around Valentine's Day.

Almonds are big business in California.   "The 2013-14 crop is estimated at 1.85 billion pounds from 810,000 bearing acres," wrote Christine Souza in the Dec. 11 edition of Ag Alert

Souza, who covered the 41st annual meeting of the Almond Board of California, wrote that "Near-record production, higher prices and room for increased export opportunities lead leaders in the almond business to forecast continued growth, with optimistic trends outweighing concerns about water supplies, increasing production costs and onerous government regulations." Read her full article.

Meanwhile, while buds turn to blossoms and blossoms turn into food for hungry honey bees, Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, keeps busy answering bee/almond questions. This year marks his 38th year as an Extension apiculturist. He will be retiring in June.

One of the questions recently posed to him:  "Do most commercial beekeepers in California specialize in a certain area of beekeeping such as honey production, pollination services, queen bees, etc., or do most do a little of all of these things?"

"Most commercial beekeepers in California try to place as many of their colonies as they can in almond pollination," Mussen responded. "That $150 or so makes up a large portion of the total costs of keeping a colony alive for a year--about $220.  After almonds, most of the commercial beekeepers (bee breeders) in the Sacramento Valley  turn to raising queen bees and bulk adult bees for the most part, with some further pollination contracts to keep their 'spare' bees making some income.  The northern California beekeepers will hardly ever produce an income-generating honey crop, unless they move their colonies out of state, which some do. Most of the bee breeders produce no reportable honey."

On the other hand, the San Joaquin Valley commercial beekeepers do attempt to earn their income after almonds from various honey sources and pollination contracts, Mussen says. "Before most crops are ready to be pollinated, the beekeepers swamp the San Joaquin citrus belt to make some honey and not have to feed their bees.  There are so many resident and visiting colonies down there that the honey crop has become very small.  Except for alfalfa seed pollination, most commercially pollinated crops do not produce honey.  Beekeepers do place their colonies near cotton, sometimes, for a honey crop, but it is risky.  The central valley beekeepers can attain the state average of 60 pounds of honey per colony, if the rains promote growth of the sage and buckwheat plants growing in the hills around the valley. 

"The southern California beekeepers usually average the best honey crops--closer to 100 pounds per colony.  There still is a significant amount of citrus down there, and quite a few wildflowers.  Rainfall remains an extremely important factor."

And declining bee health? What about colony collapse disorder (CCD)?

"CCD seems to be a combination of stresses that, sometimes, becomes overwhelming to the bees," he says. "These are the contributing leading factors: malnutrition, parasitism by Varroa destructor, infections with Nosema ceranae, infections by one or more of the 22 known honey bee viruses, exposure to pesticides, and vagaries of weather, especially cold weather.  Commonly, colonies that are collapsing are heavily infected by Nosema and one or more of the viruses."

A solo almond blossom blooming Jan. 5, 2014 in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A solo almond blossom blooming Jan. 5, 2014 in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A solo almond blossom blooming Jan. 5, 2014 in Benicia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It will be a few weeks until we see scenes like this. This photo was taken Feb. 11, 2013. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It will be a few weeks until we see scenes like this. This photo was taken Feb. 11, 2013. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

It will be a few weeks until we see scenes like this. This photo was taken Feb. 11, 2013. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, January 6, 2014 at 10:35 PM

Tough Time for Bees

Eric Mussen introduces visitors to bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
In February--the afternoon of Feb. 8 to be exact--Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology told us that California almond growers may not have enough honey bees to pollinate this year’s crop of 800,000 acres. He attributed the difficulty to winter losses and less populous hives. 

He sounded the alarm.

“We need 1.6 million colonies, or two colonies per acre, and California has only about 500,000 colonies that can be used for that purpose,” said Mussen in a news release we posted Feb. 8 on the Department of Entomology website.  “We need to bring in a million more colonies but due to the winter losses, we may not have enough bees.”

Those winter losses--still being tabulated--and the resulting fewer bees per hive could spell trouble for almond growers, he said.

He said 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.

“Last year was not a good year for honey production in the United States,” Mussen said, “and it could be one of the worst honey production years in the history of nation, although it’s been pretty rough in some of the previous years. Usually when we’re short of nectar, we’re short on pollen, and honey bees need both.  So, 2012 was a bad year for bee nutrition.”

The winter of 2012-2013, in general, was bad for bees.  In fact, it's never been good since the winter of 2006 with the onset of colony collapse disorder, a mysterious malady characterized by adult bees abandoning the hive, leaving behind the queen bee, brood and food stores.

Bee scientists think CCD is caused by a multitude of factors, includes, pests, pesticides, parasites, diseases, malnutrition and stress. On the average, beekeepers report they're losing one-third of their bees a year.

“We don’t know how many more bees will be lost over the winter,” Mussen told us on Feb. 8. “We consider the winter ending when the weather warms up and the pollen is being brought into the hives.”

 “Many, many colonies are not going to make it through the winter. We won’t have as large a bee population as in the past.”

Mussen, a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976, knows honey bees. He is a honey bee guru, a global expert on bees. "Have a question about bees? Ask Eric Mussen." This month, especially, he is in great demand as a news source.

The New York Times quoted Mussen in its March 28th article, "Mystery Malady Kills More Bees, Heightening Worry on Farms."

Eric Mussen, an apiculturist at the University of California, Davis, said analysts had documented about 150 chemical residues in pollen and wax gathered from beehives.

"Where do you start?" Dr. Mussen said. "When you have all these chemicals at a sublethal leel how do they react with each other? What are the consequences?"

Experts say nobody knows.

Meanwhile, Mussen spent much of the day today granting news media interviews. On Tuesday, April 2, it will be for Dan Rather Reports: Buzzkill. 

It was not so long ago that honey bees drew little attention, despite the fact that they pollinate about one-third of the food we eat.  A three-letter acronym, CCD, changed all that. 

Rich Schubert, a beekeeper in the Winters/Vacaville area, said it best during a question-and-answer session at Mussen's UC Davis Distinguished Seminar on Oct. 9, 2007.

If 5600 dead cows were found in a pasture, instead of 5600 dead bees, people would start paying attention, Schubert told the crowd.

So true. And now they are.

Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee foraging on almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of honey bee on an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, April 1, 2013 at 10:06 PM

Symphony in the Almonds

Symphony in the almond blossoms...

There's a wild almond tree planted in a field off Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis, that's incredibly beautiful.

Honey bees from the nearby apiary at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility reunite on the blossoms, each bee seemingly vying for the best pollen to take back to her hive.

The tree is not quite in full bloom, but don't tell that to the bees. We captured a few images of them in flight, a moving symphony performance in the almonds.

Honey bee heading toward almonds blossoms on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading toward almonds blossoms on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading toward almonds blossoms on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee, packing pollen, in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee, packing pollen, in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee, packing pollen, in mid-flight. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A blur of bee wings.  (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A blur of bee wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A blur of bee wings. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Friday, February 22, 2013 at 8:43 PM

Turning Over a New Leaf (Footed Bug)

When you first see the leaffooted bug, you know immediately how it got its name.

The appendages on its feet look like leaves!

This morning we saw one in our catmint (Nepeta) patch. It crawled beneath the tiny leaves, sharing space with honey bees, European wool carder bees, butterflies and assorted spiders.

Tonight scores of them stormed our pomegranate tree.  In fact, they made the immature  fruit their kitchen, living room and bedroom. 

Although the leaffooted bug (Leptoglossus clypealis) is a pest of pistachios and almonds,  we've never seen it on our pomegranate tree until today. Our tree, planted in 1927--back when Herbert Hoover was the U.S. president--has few pests. One year white flies attacked it mercilessly. Tonight leaffooted bugs claimed squatters' rights.

The adult bug is about an inch long with a white or yellow zigzag across its back. Shades of Zorro! Its most distinctive feature, however, are the leaflike appendages on its feet.

Back in 2009, integrated pest management specialist Frank Zalom, professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, co-authored UC IPM Pest Management Guidelines on the leaffooted bug as it pertains to almonds. Zalom and his colleagues called attention to their needlelike mouthparts. The adults feed on young nuts "before the shell hardens." And after the nut is developed,  "leaffooted bug feeding can still cause black spots on the kernel or wrinkled, misshapen nutmeats."

As for our pomegranate tree, we're not sure how well these leaffooted bugs can probe the tough, leathery fruit. 

We open the pomegranates with a serrated knife...

Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Close-up of leaffooted bug. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Leaffooted bugs making pomegranates their kitchen, living room and bedroom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Beady eyes, colorful antennae and appendages on its feet that look like leaves. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, September 4, 2012 at 11:17 PM

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