Following a mid-February start, the bloom in Don Cameron’s almond orchards south of Kerman, Calif., was all wrapped up by the end of the month — just before the arrival of welcomed rain, predicted to total about an inch or more.

Cameron is general manager for Terranova Ranches and Prado Farms, a 7,000-acre vegetable, wine grape and tree nut operation. The almond acreage includes 180 acres of mature Nonpareil and Monterey; 300 acres of third-leaf Nonpareil and Monterey that will be producing their first crop this season; 150 acres of Nonpareil, Monterey, and Wood Colony due to start production next season; and an 80-acre block of older Nonpareil, Butte and Carmel acquired this year.

Based on the warm weather in January, he had expected his trees to start blooming earlier than they did. “The bloom started on time and the flowers were a nice size,” he says. “The Monterey bloom looked excellent, better than the Nonpareil, which was slightly off. The bloom on the young trees was strong. However, the older blocks of Butte and Carmel, which were short of water last year, were slow to bloom and were still catching up with bloom when the rains came.”

Driving around his area he saw a lot of variation in this year’s bloom. It wasn’t unusual to see every fourth row of trees either lagging behind or not yet starting to bloom, he says. “It seemed like one of the pollinators wasn’t in sync with the Nonpareil this year,” Cameron adds. “Anyone with fields that were short of water last fall probably had a lighter, more variable bloom this time.”

Unlike a flash bloom of some years, this bloom was more spread out, he notes. That likely helped boost pollination rates. In his case, the weather and the bees were also doing their part.

Throughout the bloom his orchards enjoyed ideal weather, with temperatures one day reaching 76 degrees

“The bees were bubbling out of the hives,” he says. “They just loved it.”

He places about one hive per acre in his younger trees and stocks his older, more productive trees at rate of 2.5 to 3 hives per acre.  The bees are supplied by a Florida beekeeper who has been able to keep pace with Cameron’s increasing need for bees as production in his relatively young orchards has increased over the past six years. The rental rate of the bees this year was up slightly from last year, he reports.

“I’m really happy with the quality of the bees,” Cameron says. “I’m guaranteed 10 frames per hive, but usually get around 14. I pay a little more for them, but I always get really strong hives.”