Beekeepers began trucking their hives into Fresno County the latter part of January, placing them in almond orchards or nearby staging areas.
But, the scarcity of rain this winter has limited growth of vegetation and flowers for the bees to feed on until they can begin getting nourishment from the almond blooms. In fact, the first glimpse of a flower petal in an orchard near Firebaugh was the last day of January. Bud break is expected to be well under way in the county by the middle of February.
To make up for the lack for natural forage until then, beekeepers were feeding their colonies a sugar solution as a replacement for flower nectar and a pollen substitute as a source of protein.
“Unlike the last few years, when many growers and bee brokers seemed to be looking for more bees, there doesn’t seem to be a shortage of bees this season,” says Shannon Mueller, University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor for Fresno County.
Rental rates for an 8-frame hive are running about $140, she reports. That compares to last year’s rate of about $140 to $150. The ample supply of bees this year reflects the extra efforts of beekeepers to maintain the health of their hives.
“At a meeting I attended with beekeepers in December, people were hopeful they wouldn’t see the losses from Colony Collapse Disorder they’ve experienced in recent years,” Mueller says. “Beekeepers worked hard to provide their bees with the food they needed and kept a close eye on them to prevent mite or disease problems. Those extra efforts appear to have paid off.”
In early February Mueller was a speaker at the 2012 North San Joaquin Valley Almond Day at Modesto, sponsored by UC Cooperative Extension. She described how inspectors evaluate the strength of bee colonies.
Such inspections help almonds growers determine if the bees they’re renting have the health and vigor to pollinate orchards, she says. Also, it can help insure that beekeepers are appropriately compensated for their extra efforts in providing a strong colony for pollination.
“It’s important that growers and beekeepers understand which characteristics the inspectors are looking for and how the process works, so they can be more comfortable with results of the evaluation,” Mueller says.
Currently, she’s developing a free online short course for growers and beekeepers for evaluating bee colony strength. Sponsored by the Almond Board of California and Project Apis, it’s expected to be available this spring. For details contact Shannon at 559-600-7233 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org