With the shift in cropping patterns, beekeepers are often traveling farther to provide a year-round, polyfloral diet for their hives. In most cases they are also supplementing the bees’ natural diet with nutrient patties or pollen syrup during the winter. The result is added costs that are being passed along to growers.

Project Apis m. is searching for solutions to this and other challenges related to bee health and diet. Project Apis m. (PAm) is a collaborative effort of beekeepers and orchardists established five years ago to fund and direct research to improve the health and vitality of managed honey bee colonies while improving crop production.

Working through a USDA Specialty Crops Grant awarded to the California State Beekeepers Association, PAm hopes to encourage landowners and land managers to produce food resources for honey bees pollinating California specialty crops.

Participating in this research may be one way that almond growers can seize some control when it comes to improving pollination and helping stabilize the price for pollination services.

Planting bee pastures

The research project seeks to initiate two-to-three–year forage demonstration plots on seeded fields near commercial almond orchards.  Crops such as rapini mustard would be planted in September and bloom sometime around November. This crop would provide a food source for bees, allowing beekeepers to bring bees near orchards at a time when they are challenged to find adequate pastureland and forage for their hives.

Most almond growers are in the business of raising permanent crops. They often do not have the equipment or resources to produce annual crops on their property. However, the project aims to demonstrate how the practice can work for growers. Trials will look at seed mixtures and management practices for fall and spring pollinator crops to increase bee pasture in California while demonstrating possible economical and/or ecological benefits to land owners and managers.

In theory, this strategy could provide almond growers with leverage in negotiating the price they pay for hives to pollinate their crop. It is possible that beekeepers would be willing to compensate growers who helped provide additional bee forage by reducing the cost of their pollination services. It also would promote healthier hives by diversifying the diet of those honey bees, creating stronger bees, and thereby improving the pollination within the orchards.

These are the variables that Project Apis m. seeks to explore. The group is anxious to work with almond growers to explore various forage possibilities in different almond growing regions of California. Growers interested in participating in controlled trials can contact Meg Ribotto at PAm, projectapis@gmail.com.  For more on almond pollination, go to AlmondBoard.com/Farmpress19.