Mark your calendar for Tuesday, March 15 for a two-hour workshop, "Almond Pollination and Orchard Pollinator Planters" in Zamora, Yolo County. It's free and open to the public.
UC Davis pollination ecologists and other experts will be among those speaking at the event, to take place from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at 8304 County Road 91B, Zamora. No reservations are required.
“This field day will provide an overview of integrated crop pollination and on-farm wildflower plantings for almonds in the Sacramento Valley,” said organizer Katharina Ullmann, who received her doctorate in entomology from UC Davis last year with major professor and pollination ecologist Neal Williams. She is now a pollination specialist for the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation.
“We will hear the latest research from a UC Davis lab studying almond pollination and wildflower plantings, learn about almond pollinators and how to support those pollinators using wildflowers," Ullmann said. "We will also discuss establishment and maintenance practices for planting habitat on field crop edges and provide an overview of plant species appropriate for plantings in the Sacramento Valley and beyond. Two growers will share their perspectives."
The March 15 lineup:
9 a.m.: Welcome by Kat Pope, orchard advisor, UC Cooperative Extension, Sacramento, Solano and Yolo counties; and Rachael Long, owner of the DH Long Farm and Yolo County farm advisor
9:10: Integrated crop pollination, almond pollination and research update by Kimiora Ward, research associate, Neal Williams lab, UC Davis; Ola Lundin, postdoctoral researcher, Williams lab, and Katharina Ullmann, crop pollination specialist, Xerces Society
9:40: Almond wildflower plantings 101 (DH Long Farm) by Kimiora Ward, research associate, Williams lab; Kitty Bolte, junior research specialist, Williams lab; and Tom Barrios, Barrios Farms
10:25: Solarization for wildflower planting success (Tadlock Farm) by Jessa Kay Cruz, pollinator conservation specialist, Xerces Society; orchard manager, Tadlock Farm
10:45: Technical and financial support, Ha Troung, Yolo County, Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
The sponsors include UC Agriculture and Natural Resources, UC Davis, Xercies Society, Integrated Crop Pollination Project Colusa County Resource Conservation District, and the Yolo County Resource Conservation District.
Continuing education credits will be given. Participants are asked to bring a hat, sunscreen and good walking shoes. For more information contact Katharina Ullmann at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (530) 302-5504./span>
That's the soothing sound of honey bees gathering food for their colony--and in the process, pollinating almonds.
The buzz is to bees what a purr is to a cat.
On the UC Davis campus, almonds are still blooming--on Bee Biology Road and in the UC Davis Arboretum, among other sites.
But the almond pollination season that began around Valentine's Day in California is almost over. By mid-March, it's fini.
The solo almond tree that bloomed in early January in the Benicia State Recreation Area is already leafed out. It's the perfect hot spot: sun-warmed asphalt, southern exposure and no neighbors to shade it.
Meanwhile, the Almond Board of California (ABC) newsroom is buzzing, too.
"Through research we know that almond pollen is very nutritious for honey bees," said Bob Curtis, director of agricultural affairs at ABC said in a news release. "Research also shows that bee hives increase in strength during the time they spend pollinating almonds. This allows many beekeepers to then split their hives and grow their apiaries, giving the beekeepers and their bees a good foundation for the upcoming year. After their stay in the almond orchards, bees move on to pollinate more than 90 other crops in our state and elsewhere in the nation."
California now has 1 million acres of almonds, and each acre requires two bee hives for pollination. And how many almond growers are there in the state? More than 6,000, according to ABC.
"While good soil, climate, and other factors are crucial, without honey bees to pollinate our trees each spring, there would be no almonds," said Curtis in the news release. "And without almond blossoms, the bees would lose their first source of natural pollen each year. It's a win-win relationship."
Back in 2014, almond growers, beekeepers, bee breeders and scientists got together and hammered out the "Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) for California Almonds."
Extension apiculturist (now emeritus) Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, participated in that major endeavor.
In the news release, Mussen said that the almond industry is "responding strongly on honey bee health and, in particular, pesticide use and considerations during bloom. He said that the BMPs "go far beyond the almond orchard, providing important insights for all crops when it comes to promoting honey bee health."
"Since their release, the BMPs have been shared at over 70 industry meetings with more than 7,000 copies distributed to almond farmers and beekeepers alike," according to the ABC news release. "The strong, favorable response to the BMPs marks another milestone in the effort to protect honey bee health and preserve the mutually beneficial relationship between honey bees and almonds."
Without bees, no almonds, so the relationship between the almond growers and the beekeepers must continue to be nurtured, cultivated and strengthened.
Meanwhile, listen to the bees buzz, a sure sign of winter's demise and spring's promise.
When Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology asked California beekeepers for photos of their bee trucks moving out at night to the almond orchards, his call did not go unanswered.
Bob Miller of Miller's Honeybees in Watsonville provided a series of photos.
But let's let him tell the story:
"These photos were taken February 2005. They (bees) had been doing very well and it was a warm evening. We had loaded these colonies near Monterey Bay, and were moving them to Braden Ranch almonds near Snelling.
"This load contained about 135 colonies, and had been given additional supers for honey production about 10 days prior and had pretty much filled them. This is usually not a normal happening at this time of the year. The bees, being warm and on a honey flow, needed to have some breathing room, so out they came. We unloaded them that evening after a three-hour trip. They had not cooled down at all."
Amazing photos. We're glad Bob Miller picked up his camera before heading out; his photos help tell the bee-almond pollination story.
This year's California almond crop is valued at $3.2 billion. NASS (National Agricultural Statistics Service, U. S. Department of Agriculture) forecasts 1.65 billion pounds this year, up 8.5 percent above last year's revised production of 1.41 billion.
However, this may be overstated by 50 million pounds, according to industry consensus.
Mark Jansen, president and CEO of Blue Diamond Growers, writes in the current edition of Almond Facts, that a predominantly wet harvest could "reduce the saleable product by another 20 to 50 million pounds, bringing the likely crop size to between 1.55 and 1.6 million pounds."
And, he writes, "With a consumption growth rate of 8 percent, our industry will need a 2011 crop of more than 1.75 billion pounds to sustain its current growth. As most regions in the world consume more almonds, and with developing nations desiring more protein in their diet plants, almonds are a perfect fit."
California currently has 750,000 acres of almonds in production, with each acre requiring two bee colonies. That's 1.2 million colonies needed to pollinate the almonds, according to honey bee guru Eric Mussen. Since California doesn't have that many colonies--the number is around 500,000--the remainder must come from beekeepers outside the state.
Early varieties of almonds are already blooming, but generally, Feb. 14--Valentine's Day--launches the pollination season for the commercial growers.
At the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, my favorite almond tree--yes, everybody ought to have a favorite almond tree--is just about to burst into bloom.
The Laidlaw bees and other pollinators are currently foraging in the cape mallow, bush germander, roses and seaside daisies in the Haagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven.
But they're checking out those almonds.
As are we all.