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.
Understanding what bees do
Wardell also explained that each bee plays an important role in the colony, and that a reduction in bee numbers has far-reaching ramifications in the health and lifespan of the colony. Understanding this can help growers and PCA’s understand the importance of strong, vibrant bee colonies.
There are three distinct populations of bees, Wardell said: Brood bees, hive bees and field foragers. Each has its important role in colony health.
Brood bees are the babies. These include the eggs, larvae and pupae. Hive bees emerge after eggs hatch. It takes about 21 days for a bee to become an adult, he said. Hive bees remain inside the colony for about four weeks, performing a variety of duties, including feeding the brood, cleaning the hive, building wax, honey production and guarding the colony.
“There is even a group of bees we call the ‘undertaker bees’,” he said. “They look for dead and dying bees and remove them from the hive to keep the hive hygienic.”
Foraging bees will seek nectar, pollen and water for the hive. Water becomes necessary not only in feeding the young bees, as it is used to dilute the food sources fed to young bees, it is also used to cool the hive.
One of Wardell’s recommended practices is the placement of buckets of fresh water near bee colonies.
“It may be helpful for the grower to put out fresh water for the bees,” he said. “If there is a spray needed during the bloom, dump the buckets of water and replace them with clean water for the bees.”
Another helpful practice is to instruct equipment operators to make wide turns around the orchard rows to avoid knocking over bee colonies, and turn off the sprayer well before coming near the hives. Wardell says this because he has seen both practices happen.
“Avoid spraying directly on the colonies as well,” he said. “A chemical may be safe around the bees but it may not be safe on the bees.”
Wardell has seen this happen and has pictures of dead colonies of bees resulting from direct chemical contact with hives.
“I really want to try to make almonds the safest crop we can move bees to,” Wardell said. “If we can do this it will help hold down the price of pollination and make more beekeepers come to pollination, and will make the whole industry a better place.”