Almond pollination season is approaching, and with it, come concerns.
Mussen, a former New Englander who has seen dozens of almond pollination seasons in California (he's been a member of the UC Davis Department of Entomology since 1976), says California now has approximately 710,000 acres of almonds. Each acre requires two hives for pollination.
Since California doesn't have that many bees, beekeepers from around the country truck in their colonies. The going rate per hive over the last several years has ranged from $100 to $150.
Generally, California's almond pollination season starts around Feb. 10, Mussen says, and ends around March 10. That takes into account the early, mid- or late varieties that bloom at different times. However, the pollination period for each individual orchard is around 10 days.
The flight hours of a honey bee during almond pollination season? Approximately nine hours a day over a 10-day bloom period.
And what are flight hours? Mussen defines "flight hours" as "the number of hours above 55 degrees when the wind is less than 15 miles per hour, given a sufficient level of sunlight without rainfall."
"I believe that if the tree varieties overlap well in bloom, the bees usually have moved the pollen around in the morning and early afternoon on good flight days," he writes in his newsletter. "That probably requires only about four hours a day."
Of course, poor weather can interfere significantly with "fertilization and nut set," Mussen says, "but it would not be the fault of the bees."
As a service to beekeepers and growers, a retired beekeeper posts information on the Almond Board of California Web site indicating who's renting colonies and who needs pollination.
Meanwhile, check out the images below of UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist Kim Fondrk in a Dixon, Calif. almond orchard. Fondrk manages the Honey Bee Pollen Hoarding Selection Program at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility, UC Davis, under the direction of Robert E. Page Jr., Arizona State University. Fondrk and Page moved the bees from Arizona to California several years ago.