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Posts Tagged: almonds

Feel the Buzz!

Honey bee packing pollen from an almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The word is "bees"  and "almonds" are their world.

Right this very minute there are about 1.7 million colonies of bees pollinating California almonds. Since it takes two colonies to pollinate one acre, and California doesn't have that many bees,  beekeepers throughout the nation trucked in some 1.6 million colonies.

Feel the buzz!

"Spend a couple days driving on county roads around I5 and Hwy 99 in the Central Valley of California, and you can feel the excitement!" writes Christi Heintz, executive director of Project Apis m.  in her February newsletter. "Semi-load trucks are delivering over 400 hives each near orchards."

She lists five February facts: 

  1. Commercially-managed bees are just about ready for the biggest pollination event ON EARTH
  2. More than 3,500 truckloads of bees have crossed the border into California for the event,
  3. Almonds will require 1.7 million colonies this season
  4. If over-wintering losses for honey bees are hovering about the same as previous years (30 percent), almond pollination requires nearly ALL available commercially-managed colonies, and
  5. Some lucky bees have been able to forage on PAm's Mustard Mix and thus will not starve prior to bloom! 

What is Project Apis m.?

As Heintz explains: Project Apis m.'s mission is to fund and direct research to enhance the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while improving crop production. Our organization's name comes from Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honey bee.  Project Apis m. or PAm is the go-to organization at the interface of honeybees and pollinated crops. We've infused over 2.5 million into bee research since our inception in 2006 to provide growers with healthier bees resulting in better pollination and increased crop yields.  We have personal relationships with the nation's commercial beekeepers and with the top bee scientists in the country."

"We fund research studies, purchase equipment for bee labs at our universities, support graduate students and provide scholarships to young bee scientists to encourage their pursuit of science-based solutions to honey bee challenges."

"We are a non-profit 501 (c) (5) organization governed by an eight-member board. Our board members are beekeepers representing the major national and state beekeeping organizations. Four scientific advisors review research proposals and provide recommendations to the board." (Among the long-term advisors: Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology.)"

Unfortunately, California is deep in the throes of a four-year drought. 

As Heintz notes in her current newsletter:  "Last year, we sadly reported that the drought had prevented or delayed emergence of much of our pre-almond bloom flowering plants.  This year, though the drought continues, we can happily report we are on target in many areas, with some rain falling at the right time so bees are enjoying planted forage during the usual pre-almond dearth."

Meanwhile, explore the Project Apis m. website: lots of information about what this organization is doing and what it hopes to do.

Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Two bees heading for the same almond blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A University of California researcher in a Capay Valley almond orchard. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at 5:22 PM

From A (Almond) to B (Bee)

Stephanie Hsia
This is a story about honey bees, almonds and a Harvard gradate student who is passionate about pollinators.

Stephanie Hsia, a master of landscape architecture candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD), has just created a marvelous 46-page digital story, http://almondandbee.com, which she plans to turn into a book.  It's about the spatial relationship between the almond tree and the honey bee over time.

"I was inspired to create socially engaging and ecologicalperformative places and hope to bring my passion for enhancing natural systems to the urban environment," said Stephanie, who holds a master in environmental science and management from UC Santa Barbara's Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.  Before enrolling at Harvard, she worked in  environmental consulting and at urban ecology and watershed non-profits. 

Her passion for pollinators extends to keeping bees on the rooftop of her school building.

A little bit more about Stephanie: Her interest in entomology first peaked when she was an undergraduate student. "During one of my summers, I had the opportunity to work at a lab studying wasp behavior and butterfly learning. I would sit in large cages with wasps, and note how they would react to different stimuli (e.g., caterpillars in leaf shelters, leaf shelters with frass, etc). We also ran experiments watching butterflies forage to see if they could learn to prefer a different flower color based on nectar reward."

"As a designer, I developed an interest in pollination during my second semester at the Harvard Graduate School of Design--I used the idea of pollination to attract people and pollinators to a park redesign, and developed a planting palette and a promenade that would do so."

Stephanie  became interested in almonds in early 2014 while developing a grant application. The grant funded her travel through California almond orchards in May 2014.  She spent a week in "almond country." She met with experts at UC Berkeley and UC Davis, the Almond Board, the Blue Diamond Cooperative, beekeepers, almond farmers and almond farmers who also kept bees in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys.

One of the people she met was pollination ecologist Neal Williams, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He filled her on his research and offered tips on people to meet and places to see.

"I also took a helicopter ride in Fresno County to shoot aerial images of the almond orchards," Stephanie said. "I'm scared of heights, so I was a bit worried about this part of the trip, but it was really worth it, and not quite so scary when you experience the ride through the lens of a camera!"

"The shape of the project developed during my fall 2014 semester. I thought an illustrated story would allow me to combine my photographs, maps, and drawings, with found historical images in an engaging and accessible form.  I would like the story to reach a wide audience, so developing a visually interesting project was very important.  We've built this expansive and what is essentially a massive bee infrastructure that is very surprising. The story is about how that came to be, but it's also an argument for holistic thinking in agriculture that could be both cultural and economically significant."

Stephanie said she started learning  about beekeeping in fall 2013, "but really started to keep bees when I took over as the head of the GSD bees group at the school in spring 2014." The small group of students has kept bees on the rooftop "for a few years now," she notes. "It was a steep learning curve, but so rewarding, and I'm keeping my fingers cross that the bees make it through this tough winter!"

When you access the first page of http://almondandbee.com, two key sentences coax you to read more: "The almond and the bee. The spatial relationship of the orchard, bee, and dwelling through time."

Almonds and bees need each other, she points out. Almonds are the first California crop to bloom "when honey bee colonies numbers are at their lowest." Today California's has more than 900,000 acres. Each acre requires two bee colonies for pollination. And every year some 1.6 million colonies, or approximately 60 percent of the nation's colonies, are trucked to California.

"California almonds are exported to more than 80 countries, making it the most valuable and profitable specialty agricultural export in the U.S.," she writes.

"The relationship between almond growers and migratory beekeepers are in many ways analogous to that of the fruit tree and the bee—one is sedentary and one is mobile, but both depend on one another," Stephanie writes.

In her digital story, she traces the modern history of the honey bee, touches on traditional beekeeping methods, mentions the invention of the Langsroth hive in 1851, and takes a peek at the future of beekeeping and almond orchards.

It's an informative, creative and well-designed story.

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

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

Posted on Wednesday, February 11, 2015 at 5:44 PM

The Buzzword is 'Almonds'

The wait is over.

It's almond pollination season again in California. We spotted a lone almond tree blooming in Benicia on Christmas Day. And on New Year's Day, even more blooms.

No honey bees, though.

If you want to photograph bees on almonds, you have to go where the bees are.

Bees at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis, got their buzz on today, as they foraged on several almond trees on the grounds of the Department of Entomology and Nematology.

Meanwhile, the buzzword throughout California is "almonds."   Some 1.6 million bee colonies are here to pollinate the state's 900,000-plus acres of almonds.

A honey bee peers over an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee peers over an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee peers over an almond blossom on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cousins: a honey bee and an ant. Both belong to the order Hymenoptera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Cousins: a honey bee and an ant. Both belong to the order Hymenoptera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Cousins: a honey bee and an ant. Both belong to the order Hymenoptera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

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

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

Honey bee heading for the next blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee heading for the next blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bee heading for the next blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Tuesday, February 3, 2015 at 9:56 PM
Tags: almonds (17), honey bee (2)

The Almonds Are Blooming! The Almonds Are Blooming!

The almonds are blooming! The almonds are blooming!

Well, at least one almond tree in the Benicia State Recreation Area is blooming. On a drive to Benicia on Christmas Day, we spotted several blooms on an almond tree. The tree, a foot from the parking lot, was getting a little southern exposure--and soaking in the warmth of the sun bouncing off the asphalt.

California almonds don't usually bloom 'til around Feb. 14--Valentine's Day--but this tree has always been an early bloomer. It was blooming on New Year's Day in 2014.

Unfortunately, the honey bees hadn't found it yet.

But they did find the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, where jade and oxalis have burst into bloom, and they also found the winter vegetables in the Avant Community Park in downtown Benicia. The bees were working the broccoli blossoms, two bees at a time.

Who says broccoli isn't good for you?

An almond tree at the Benicia State Recreation Area was blooming on Christmas Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
An almond tree at the Benicia State Recreation Area was blooming on Christmas Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

An almond tree at the Benicia State Recreation Area was blooming on Christmas Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees working the broccoli blossoms in the Avant Community Garden, Benicia, on Christmas Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bees working the broccoli blossoms in the Avant Community Garden, Benicia, on Christmas Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Honey bees working the broccoli blossoms in the Avant Community Garden, Benicia, on Christmas Day. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee forages on an oxalis blossom on Christmas Day at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee forages on an oxalis blossom on Christmas Day at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee forages on an oxalis blossom on Christmas Day at the Benicia Capitol State Historic Park. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Monday, December 29, 2014 at 8:32 PM
Tags: almonds (17), Benicia (1), honey bees (12)

Trouble in the Almond Orchards

Beekeepers and almond growers are concerned--and rightfully so--about the some 80,000 bee colonies that died this year in the San Joaquin Valley almond orchards. In monetary terms, that's a loss of about $180,000. But the loss isn't just financial. It could have long-term effects.

Beekeepers believe that pesticides killed their bees after the almond pollination season ended but just before they could move their bees to another site. This is a serious blow to both industries. Growers need the bees to pollinate their almonds. Now some beekeepers are vowing this is it; they'll never to return for another almond pollination season.

Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology talks about the issue in his latest edition of from the uc apiaries, published today on his website.

"When should the colonies be allowed to leave the orchards?" he asks. "When pollination no longer is happening. That does not mean that the bees should remain in place until the last petal falls from the last blossom."

"Why might beekeepers desire to move their hives out of the orchards 'early?' Once the almonds no longer provide nectar and pollen for the bees, the bees find replacement sources of food. Unfortunately, those sources may be contaminated with pesticides that almond growers would never use when the bees are present. Some common pests that surge right near the end of almond bloom include Egyptian alfalfa weevil larvae and aphids in alfalfa, and grape cutworms in vineyards. Delayed dormant sprays sometimes are being applied in other deciduous fruit orchards, even when the trees are in bloom. Often blooming weeds in the crops are attracting honey bees. If the year is really dry, the bees may be attracted to sugary secretions of aphids and other sucking bugs."

Mussen says it's "not difficult to see that accidental bee poisonings often happen. Despite our California regulations requiring beekeepers to be notified of applications of bee-toxic chemicals within a mile of the apiaries, bees fly up to four miles from their hives to find food and water. That is an area of 50 square miles in which they may find clean or contaminated food sources. Thus, growers whose fields are 'nowhere near' any known apiary locations may accidentally kill many bees with chemical applications."

"It seems," Mussen says, "that a combination of exposures of colonies to truly bee-toxic insecticides, followed by delayed effects of exposure to fungicide/IGR mixes during bloom, really set the bees way behind. The problem proved so severe that a number of beekeepers stated that they were never returning to California for almond pollination. That is not a good thing, since we really don't have too many colonies coming to almonds as it is."

In his newsletter, Mussen goes into depth about when and how bees pollinate the almonds and what could be causing the problem and how it can be resolved.

His take-home message? "Our honey bees cannot continue to be exposed to as many toxic agricultural products as they are, or we will not have enough bees to fill the pollination demand for our nuts, fruits, vegetable, forage and seed crops."

That's serious business.

A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

A honey bee packing pollen as it forages on almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Almond growers need bees. Without bees, there would be no almonds. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Posted on Wednesday, April 23, 2014 at 9:21 PM

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