Growers like Coleman are calling this season a “short bloom year.” The trees began blooming on time about Feb. 15 and bloom lasted for a month. However, for Coleman, weather suitable for bloom pollination accounted for only a few days of that month.

“All told, when it came right down to it, we had maybe a week of good pollination days. It got so bad I was starting to count the hours of sunshine each day when the weather got real bad,” he said.

Coleman and several of his neighbors combined orchards to attract a local beekeeper and they benefitted from strong hives. Asked if he saw signs of colony collapse, he said, “I saw quite a few dead bees around some hives; nevertheless, the bees were working the orchard when the weather was good. You could hear the hum of the bees in the orchard when they were working.”

Coleman explained Carmel and the bees synced perfectly. Carmel blooms three to four days after Nonpareil and bloom conditions were good for that California variety. “The Carmel crop is so big I am not sure the trees can hold it. I am already seeing nuts crowding each other off the trees. The Butte and Padre bloom was unbelievable.”

Clovis, Calif., agronomist and PCA Eli Akel consults with growers in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties and he said the bloom overall was spectacular. However nut set is mixed among his growers. “In some Monterey and Fritz blocks you couldn’t even see bark on the limbs because of all the blooms,” he says. “The showy bloom had some Nonpareil producers expecting a lot more from their trees, but the resulting nut set didn’t measure up.”

Fritz and Monterey bloomed earlier than Nonpareil. “So far, the trend is the reverse of last year, when Fritz didn’t have a good crop, the Monterey crop was average and the Nonpareil had a decent crop,” Akel says.

In some cases this spring, hard shell variety growers saw a wide variation in the bloom pattern. In one block Akel checked, Buttes were at 90 percent bloom while only half of the Padres were at or near full bloom. On the same day in a different block, Butte bloom was 100 percent compared to just 30 percent Padre.

Aldrich, Padre and Nonpareil varieties did not set well. Nonpareils had a higher nut set with pollinators such as Avalon, Monterey and Wood Colony, but a lower set if the third pollinator was Aldrich.

“That kind of variation between varieties, which results in poor overlap and poor pollination, can occur with a short bloom cycle,” Akel says. “Poor pollination can also occur during a short bloom, if you don’t have enough bees. For example, some growers who stocked 2.5 hives per acre this year probably would have benefitted by having 3.5 hives.