When almond grower Chuck Dirkse walked through his LaMancha Orchards in early March, the trees were all a’bloom and thick with flower-pollinating bees.
“The bees looked exceptionally strong and seemed to be hungry and rearing to go,” says the Stanislaus County, Calif., grower. “On most days, I saw multitudes of bees in every tree. Even on cold, windy days they were aggressive; I saw them flying in temperatures as low as 47 and 48 degrees and in 15 mph winds.”
Dirkse stocks his orchards at the rate of 2.25 hives per acre – that’s a bit more than many growers in his area who usually put out two hives per acre.
“I want enough bees to cover everything if bad weather limits the number of good flying days,” he says. “And, I want to push the trees to get the highest production I can, because they can handle it
The family-owned business features 310 acres of almonds near Denair, Calif. In addition to Nonpareil, varieties include Avalon, Butte, Carmel, Fritz, Mission, Monterey, Ruby and Wood Colony.
Blossoms began opening on his earliest-blooming variety, Avalon, in mid-February. While there are still some flowers on all trees, the earliest varieties effectively finished bloom the first week of March. The later varieties, Butte, Ruby and Mission, are next to bloom.
“We had a great overlap between varieties this year, and the bloom seemed to last longer than normal,” Dirkse says.
Freezing weather the last week of February, when temperatures dropped to 31 degrees, didn’t hurt the blooms.
“Right now, our trees are in really good shape,” Dirkse says. “We had a very solid bloom, extending from the very tops of the trees to the bottoms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them so completely full of blossoms as they were this year— they all seem to be hitting on eight cylinders.”
The big bloom encompassed entire orchards and includes trees ranging in age from his youngest, 7 and 8 years old, to the oldest, the 25- and 26-year olds.
Dirkse’s current concern is protecting his budding crop from possible brown rot blossom blight. With petals on the trees and rain in the forecast, he made his second fungicide application the second week of March. Assuming dry weather follows through petal fall, that would be the last of his brown rot sprays this season.