Honeybee colonies are a delicate organism, according to bee biologist Gordon Wardell. Here he inspects a colony located at Paramount Farms near Lost Hills, Calif.
The need for bees
Colony Collapse Disorder continues to concern those involved in the bee industry, and for good reason. According to Wardell, California needs about 1.6 million colonies of bees during the bloom period. The United States has about 2.4 million colonies in total. It is not a stretch to say these numbers are dangerously close.
“The problem here is with almond acreage increasing in California we will need even more bees in the future,” he said. “If we have an average die-off, which normally is about 30 percent every year, we’re at the tipping point right now.”
Further exacerbating the problem is the price of pollination and the cost of shipping bees into California, according to Wardell. He said some bee keepers are reluctant to ship bees into California for the almond bloom because they feel they can get better prices for their bees elsewhere.
On the bright side, Wardell says that many of the beekeepers he deals with like working with Paramount Farms because of its efforts to protect bees.
“Many of our bee keepers are asking if they can return to Paramount because their bees return healthier than in other orchards where they encounter a lot of sprays,” he continued.
Wardell is not pushing for an absence of sprays in almond orchards. He is simply pushing for a smarter approach that takes bees into account, not only for their necessity in pollinating almonds and a host of other crops, but because of their beneficial use in nature.
Another practice he recommends is avoiding tank mixes because too little is known of the synergistic effect the various chemical chemistries have on bee health
Adding to the various unknowns is the Varroa mite, which is lethal to honey bees.
He cautions that while pesticide labels can indicate relative safety when used around honey bees, keeping sprays off the hives is critical because of a certain bee behavior called “wash boarding.”
This is where bees physically clean the surface of the hive, sterilizing the surface of the hive with an anti-bacterial compound they excrete from their mouths.
“If we happen to have a spray that hits the colony, these bees are trying to clean it off,” he said.