Standing in his Butte and Padre blocks on March 10, it looked like snow had blanketed Mike Schafer’s central San Joaquin Valley almond orchards. That’s how quickly petal fall from these two varieties built up after the trees had reached full bloom the previous day. A day later, plenty of wood was visible on the trees and green leaves were pushing.

Mike and his brother, Steve, grow 1,700 acres of almonds along with 2,100 acres of wine and raisin grapes and 120 acres of pomegranates near Madera, Calif.

As with many California almond growers, the Schafers’ trees began blooming later than usual this year. The first to bloom for them was Sonora and Nonpareil on sandier soils. They began showing blossoms on Feb. 16-18, Mike recalls.

“Once it started, the bloom was over very quickly in all our varieties,” Mike says. “Some years, the trees stay white for a long time. This year, the bloom went from, maybe, 10 percent one day to 20 percent the next and then jumped to 50 percent and then 100 percent just a few days later. “

By the start of the second week of March, an estimated 90 percent of his Nonpareil and the other varieties had finished blooming.

Only one day of rain marred the good bloom weather. Still, after more than three decades of growing almonds, Mike’s not sure how the weather during this stage of crop development will affect final yields.

 

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“I’ve seen some good crops follow good weather during bloom,” he says. “And, I’ve seen some great crops in years where it seemed to rain every day during bloom. Two years ago, for example, we had rain throughout the bloom, and we had our biggest crop ever.”

Despite reports of a shortage of bees and high prices for hives, Mike had plenty of strong, healthy bees this year. He’s worked with the same local beekeeper for the past four decades.

“I got all the bees I needed for $150 a hive,” Mike says. “The bees were exceptional. Most of the hives had at least eight trays.”

He puts out 2.25 hives per acre in his highest-producing blocks. The rest are stocked with two hives per acre.

Even with the good weather and active bees in his orchards, Mike doubts this year’s bloom was as good as last year. And, it wasn’t nearly as good as the 2011 bloom, either, he adds.