One of California's most important specialty crops is almonds; in 2016 the state's crop was worth $5.2 billion. Our climate is ideal for almond production, and as a result we grow more than 80% of the world's supply. California's almond acreage has been increasing steadily as the market for almonds continues to grow, and has nearly doubled since 2005. This increasing demand has a tremendous impact on the nation's migratory beekeepers: the flower is self-infertile, so pollen must be transferred between plants by bees for nuts to be produced. Simply put: no bees, no almonds.
Two honey bee hives per acre of almond trees is required for good pollination. To fill this need, migratory beekeepers from all over the US bring their hives to California for almond bloom. Trees are at their peak bloom right now, and the girls are hard at work throughout the state. While bees obtain both pollen and nectar from almond flowers, the pollen is high in protein and provides healthy bee forage, which can give bees a good start to the year.
Why is there such a demand for almonds? They are also a healthy food for us! They are high in protein and monounsaturated fat and contain a number of vitamins and minerals.
Honey bee hives are often left in orchards for a month or more before and after almond bloom. While many growers understand the importance of alternative sources of forage in their orchards, if you live within flight distance of an orchard – 3 to 5 miles – your garden can help.
Would you like to grow specialty crops at home but don't have much space? Try a bucket planter!
Easy to make, this is a great solution for harvesting a lot of food from a small space. The slippery sides of the bucket also help to stop squirrels and other four-legged pests from reaching the plant. Here's how to build one:
Step 1: Cut out the bottom of two clean, unused buckets. For safety's sake, use new buckets to ensure that paint or other chemicals don't contaminate the crop. These were cut with a jigsaw, but a steak knife will work if you don't have power tools.
Step 2: Attach the buckets together. In this example, holes were drilled for zip ties. Scissors or a nail could also be used to punch a hole if you don't have a power drill.
Step 3: If needed, secure the planter. We've attached ours to a raised bed with a screw eye and a zip tie. This should hold it up in our windy location.
Step 4: Irrigation. Plants grow best in a tall container if there is a water source running the length of the root zone. We ran a soaker hose up the center of our planter.
Step 5: Fill with soil and wet thoroughly. We used a soilless container media; this is a peat-based product that does not absorb water well if it's dry. Soaking it completely before planting ensures that it remains evenly moist.
Step 6: Plant and enjoy! Mulch is recommended to help conserve water.
Two weeks after planting, our zucchini is blooming. Squash bees have been seen in the flowers, so a harvest can't be far behind!
California's squash crop was worth $30 million in 2015, this was second highest in the US. Eat your squash! It is a source of protein, vitamins A, B6, C, and K, thiamin, niacin, phosphorus, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Although growers rent honey bees for pollination, much squash and pumpkin pollination is done by the squash bee, Peponapis pruinosa. Results of studies on the effect of honey bees on squash bee activity have been varied, showing a mix of positive and negative impacts.
Don't let the notion that squash plants need lots of room deter you from growing this easy specialty crop. Squash can be trained up a trellis or grown on a porch in a bucket planter. It's even a great way to get to know your neighbors via National Sneak Some Zucchini on Your Neighbor's Porch Day!
California's tomato crop (processing and fresh) was worth $1.7 billion in 2015; our state grows 96% of the US crop of processing tomatoes. A sure sign of summer, this tasty and nutritious specialty crop is a source of vitamins A, B6, C, E, and K as well as thiamin, niacin, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber.
No bees = fewer tomatoes. Research has shown that surrounding tomato fields with flowering plants improves yield. Tomatoes are both wind- and bee-pollinated, but bee-pollinated tomatoes have been found to have higher levels of vitamin C and to weigh more. Honey bees cannot pollinate tomatoes they require a special type of pollination called 'buzz pollination' that honey bees cannot do. Buzz pollinators can vibrate their bodies to shake pollen from the enclosed anthers of tomatoes and other solanaceous crops. Bee pollinators of tomatoes include carpenter bees (Xylocopa spp.) and bumble bees (Bombus spp.).
Winter crops are finished and our spring plantings are coming along nicely. Here's a wrap-up of what we grew this winter:
You'll find lots of information about this crop in a previous post. As you can see, bok choy remains fresh and ready to harvest even after it has bolted (the term used for cabbage family members that have flowered). Healthy food for us and the bees = win-win!
This California specialty crop is delicious sautéed in olive oil with a bit of seasoning. Again, we let ours bolt to provide a nutritious winter pollen source for our bees. Most US production is in California and is concentrated along the coast; the cool, foggy weather there is perfect for this crop. Value in 2015 was nearly $24 million.
Brussels sprouts are high in vitamins C, K, and some B vitamins. Like other cabbage family members, they contain sulforaphane, a compound that may have anti-cancer properties. Steam or stir-fry Brussels sprouts to ensure the highest level of this chemical.
Several cauliflower varieties are available for purchase at the market or for production by the home gardener. California produces most of the cauliflower consumed in the US, with production along the coast and in the Inland Empire. Crop value in 2015 was $309 million. It is very nutritious: it's a source of vitamin C, vitamin K, folate, pantothenic acid, and vitamin B6.
Here you can see one head ready for harvest and how the part we eat is actually flower buds. By growing a few extras to flower for the bees we can all have a nutritious meal! The purple variety 'Graffiti' gets its color from the plant pigment anthocyanin, which is high in antioxidants.
You'll find lots of information about this crop in a previous post. The expanding fava bean pod still has remnants of the flower attached, which shows nicely how pollination of the ovary at the base of the flower leads to development of the produce we harvest.