A few days before Madera County almond grower Matt Andrew turned the page on his calendar from March to April, only a few flowers remained on his Butte-Padre trees. Meanwhile, nutlets were barely visible where earlier varieties, like Nonpareil and Sonora, had already lost their flowers.

Petal fall for his other varieties — Carmel, Livingston, Monterey, Price and Wood Colony — had ended by the third week of March

This year, the first flowers began to appear later than usual, around Feb. 20.

“The bloom season was wonderful,” says Andrew, who with his father, uncle and cousin, grows 2,100 acres of almonds as part of ATB Growers near Madera, Calif. “You couldn’t ask for more beautiful weather. We had several days of temperatures in the 80s and only one day when it rained. The bloom came on really fast and was fairly intense.”

Working with the same beekeeper for nearly two decades, Andrew had no problem getting the quantity and quality of bees needed for pollination. However, the quick bloom put them under some pressure to get the job in a timely manner. “If the bloom is drawn out a little longer, the bees have more time to pollinate one variety before moving onto the next when all the varieties are ready at about the same time,” he says.

But, the higher temperatures and good flying weather helped.  “The bees were plenty active,” Andrew says. “On the days when afternoon temperatures reached into the 80s, the bees came out as early as 8 or 9 in the morning.”

However, the new crop remains vulnerable to spring freeze damage. “We watch different weather models so we’re not surprised by any cold weather coming, and we keep the orchards a little on the wetter side to help protect against frost.”

Based on the bloom, Andrew expects his trees to produce a decent 2013 crop. He’ll have a much better idea later in April after the trees shed their smallest nuts. However, he’s prepared for production to slip this year as the trees rest following two years of strong crops.

Even though the sparse rainfall has reduced disease pressure in his orchards, Andrew followed his normal practice of making two preventive bloom-time fungicides applications. He sprayed the trees at the beginning of bloom and, again, after petal fall, using a different material each time to help protect against any disease.

“Some guys are doing away with bloom sprays altogether,” he says. “We’re not ready to do that.”

Andrew is staying with his usual fertilization program this season, too. Recently, he applied 50 units of nitrogen as UN32 through his micro sprinklers. He’ll follow up with two more like treatments, one around the end of May and another in July. Also, he’ll feed his trees small doses of potassium and micronutrients this spring. One of those applications in early May will include a miticide.

Last year mite pressure in the orchards was very low. Andrew wants to keep it that way,

His alkaline soils can become quite dusty.  Dust spreads mites. “If we see any kind of symptoms of mite damage, we treat right away to keep the mites from getting out of hand,” he says. “They can flare up very quickly.

Availability of surface water to irrigate his almond orchards is much less of a concern for Andrew than many other San Joaquin Valley growers this year. Only about a fourth of the almond acreage is within an irrigation district. The rest is irrigated using groundwater.

The orchards are located in western Madera County, east of the San Joaquin River, which recharges the aquifer beneath his orchards fairly quickly, Andrew notes.

This report is from Tree Nut Farm Press, a twice-monthly electronic newsletter published by Western Farm Press during the growing season. This edition was sponsored by Valent USA.  If would like to receive Tree Nut Farm Press go to the Western Farm Press home page (westernfarmpress.com) and sign up for TNFP and other Farm Press electronic newsletters.

More from Western Farm Press

Wine market sparks gold rush in China

Fire ant balls can wreak havoc

Farmland real estate crash a growing concern

Biggest wine hoax in history reveals trade secrets