Anyone in the business of growing almonds appreciates the challenges of pollination. First, unlike most other fruits and nuts, almonds are not self-pollinating; they require cross-pollination from both another almond tree and another almond variety. Second, unlike other crops, the almond crop is not thinned. Therefore, the degree of pollination activity required is extraordinarily greater than in other crops. Finally, from the perspective of the pollinating insect (typically a honeybee), the timing of almond bloom – mid-February, which is the lowest point of colony strength – could not be worse.
The best way for almond growers to ensure an abundant crop is to have as many working honey bees flying out of each rented colony as possible. Successful pollination requires not just bees, but – most critically – strong and healthy bees. For maximum pollination effectiveness, a grower needs bee colonies that are ideally eight frames in strength. Research has shown that the number of pollinating bees delivered by an eight-frame colony when compared to a four-frame colony is not twice as many (as one would think); but rather, is more like four times as many! In a weaker four-frame colony, a higher percentage of bees need to stay at home inside the box to keep the colony warm.
In order to be able to deliver strong and healthy bees for almonds, beekeepers need to have colonies headed by high quality queen bees, and preferably young queen bees as well. Beekeepers also need to extensively feed their colonies both syrup and pollen substitute patties beginning in late summer, and continuing all the way through to at least Thanksgiving. Fall bees that are headed for almond pollination should be tested for varroa mites, and treated if necessary. With a disciplined regimen of regular feeding, monitoring and TLC, beekeepers can – and do! – produce what is seemingly unthinkable – an eight frame strong and healthy colony in the middle of February.
As this is being posted, Wildflower Meadows is sending our best “eight frame and greater” colonies on a journey to the almond orchards of Bakersfield, CA to help contribute our share to the world’s largest annual pollination event…