Avocado Pollination

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Pesticide Spraying

Every spring, around late May, more or less, comes the dreaded phone call: “Hi, we just wanted to let you know that we will be spraying the grove at . . . ____ .  We know that you have bees in the area and want to give you a chance to move them out before we begin pesticide spraying.”

While perfectly courteous and respectful, this call and those like them are particularly bothersome here at Wildflower Meadows.  Oftentimes, the yard in question has a group of emerging virgin queens that are just getting oriented to the area.  Other times, the colonies in the yard just received a batch of sensitive queen cells.  At these critical points, it can be detrimental to have to move a colony of bees to a new location.  Yet, they have to be moved.  And, typically, we lose the queens when this happens.

The other challenge of receiving late May spray calls is the unfortunate timing.  Late May is usually the end of our busiest season.  Our crews are growing tired from working long hours since late March, and now have a new, unexpected project to tackle.  Of course the days are long at this time of year, so we have to wait until the sun finally sets to begin the moving process.

The final blow often takes place after we ultimately move the bees to what we think is a safe location, then receive a new incoming call of: “Hi, we see that you just moved bees into the area.  We plan on spraying there next week  . . . ”

 

 

Migratory Beekeeping

Some of our largest customers at Wildflower Meadows are migratory beekeepers.  Migratory beekeepers in the United States begin each new year in California pollinating almonds.  After that their paths diverge.  Some move their bees to orange groves to produce orange blossom honey.  Other beekeepers continue on to Oregon and Washington to pollinate cherries, cranberries, and apples.  By summer, many of these same beekeepers can be found in the Great Plains producing clover honey.  In the fall and winter, most of these very same beekeepers move their bees to warmer climates, like these here in Southern California, for over-wintering.

What makes all this possible is the existence of the vast United States interstate highway system, the availability of large flatbed trucks, and forklifts.  Migratory beekeepers keep their bees on pallets, usually four to a pallet – most usually known as “four-ways.”  The pallet doubles as a bottom board for the colonies, each of which are held in place by clips.  When it comes time to move the bees, the beekeeper can easily pick up a pallet of four colonies at a single time with a forklift.  Giant 18-wheel flatbed trucks are loaded with upwards of 400 colonies each.  Depending on the distance of the move, the load is netted down, and the truckers head on their way to more abundant pastures.

While migratory beekeeping benefits the bees in certain ways – the bees always find themselves in the midst of flowering crops or fields – it is hard on them in other ways.  The constant moving can lead to stress, which can result in queen losses.  And, keeping bees on pallets and in close quarters is not necessarily ideal because it can lead to the spread of mites and diseases.

Migratory beekeeping can also be hard on the beekeepers, who spend large amounts of the year away from home and family.  The life of a migratory beekeeper features many days on the road, staying in cheap hotels, eating fast food, and almost all of the of time worrying about planning and logistics.

Despite all this hardship, not enough praise can be offered to these brave beekeepers, and the contributions that they make to our food supply.  Without migratory beekeepers and their invaluable pollination services, our crops would suffer greatly – and we would too.  Migratory beekeepers are among the true heroes of beekeeping!

Photo courtesy of Allen’s Honey Company, Brawley, California, pollinators of almonds, melons, alfalfa and countless vegetable seed crops.

Orange Blossom Honey

California has many well-documented problems: wildfires, traffic jams, and earthquakes immediately come to mind.  On the other hand, however, California has orange blossom honey!

Beginning around the middle of March and lasting until about the middle of April, citrus trees – including orange, tangerine, lemons, limes, and grapefruit – all blossom in full force, emitting the sweet aroma of citrus bloom.  A walk inside a blossoming citrus grove is a sensory experience to behold:  beautiful spring weather, bright green leaves, spectacular aroma, and happy honeybees buzzing everywhere.

During springtime in California, with many types of wildflowers blooming, honeybees have countless options of where to forage.  Typically, however, one of their first choices are the orange trees, and who can blame them?

In Southern California, a downside of orange blossoms flowering in March, if there can be one, is that a strong nectar flow of citrus trees can draw bees away from nearby blooming avocado trees.  This dual blooming has the potential to impair nearby avocado pollination.  Avocado farmers who neighbor flowering citrus trees need to be aware of the competition for their bees, and compensate by keeping extra colonies of honeybees in their avocado groves to pollinate their trees.

Avocado Pollination

Avocado blossoms bloom in two stages.  In the first stage, flowers open as a female.  In other words they do not produce pollen, but receive pollen.   In the second stage, which takes place about three to four hours later (or the next day) the flower opens as a male.  The stigma of the male flower releases pollen.  Some tree varieties have flowers that start the day as a female, and other varieties have those that start the day as a male.  In both cases, the flowers switch over mid-day.  On cloudy or overcast days, however, neither type of flower will open in the morning, delaying the start of pollination.  When the sun finally does appear, some trees may have both male and female flowers blooming at the same time!

A mature avocado tree may bear a million flowers in a single season.  It is no secret that good pollination improves both the yield and quality of avocados.  Although avocados are partially self-pollinating, visits by honeybees have been proven beneficial because honeybees transfer large amounts of pollen from flower to flower, tree to tree.  It has been estimated that up to 90% of an avocado crop would be lost in the event there were no honeybees.  Many commercial avocado growers in California contract to rent thousands of beehives for improved pollination and yield.  An estimated 105,000 colonies per year are rented in the United States specifically to improve avocado pollination.