Kathy Keatley Garvey/UC-Davis
DAVIS, Calif. — Bee colonies were in relatively good health as they took to the orchards for the almond blossom in California, experts say.
But the question for many beekeepers is what they’ll do with the bees once the bloom is over, since there won’t be as many other flowers available because of the state’s drought.
“The truth of the matter is we’re going to have a bunch of bees that are going to be hungry and there’s not a whole lot of food out there,” said Eric Mussen, an extension apicurist at the University of California-Davis.
Shannon Wooten, owner of Wooten’s Golden Queens in Palo Cedro, Calif., expects to augment his bees’ natural honey with a little protein and sugar syrup to maintain their nutritional balance, he said.
“Right now this rain is going to bring a lot of ground flowers,” Wooten said. “But I’m still afraid of the summer. The ground’s going to be so dry.… At this point I don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Winter die-offs from a mysterious malady known as colony collapse disorder have been decimating about one-third of the nation’s bees every year since 2006, when it was first noticed, according to UC-Davis.
Last year, almond growers faced a honeybee shortage as they sought to pollinate a crop of 800,000 acres. However, there were just enough bees to handle this year’s bloom, perhaps because some growers took out some older trees to save water, Mussen said.
As is the case for livestock producers, the prospect of supplemental feeding can quickly affect beekeepers’ profitability. It costs growers about $220 a year to maintain a bee colony, and most commercial beekeepers have 1,000 or more colonies, Mussen said.
So bee producers must rely on other contracts in addition to almonds just to meet their cost of production, he said. Or they must sell lots of honey, which has become increasingly difficult in northern areas, he said.
For Wooten, the future looks brighter than it did before a series of rainstorms rolled in on Feb. 26.
“There are some things that will bloom, and some things that are blooming right now that shouldn’t be,” Wooten said. “At this time of year, we’re not looking to make an excess of honey, but the bees just need to make some. That gives them the nutritional balance they need.”
The rain may have cut the almond harvest short a bit, but it was almost finished anyway in some areas, and a couple of balmy days before the storms arrived facilitated lots of bee activity, Wooten said.
“For the most part, most of the orchards were far enough along in bloom that it’s not going to hurt them a bit,” he said. “I’ve heard several almond growers say they’d sacrifice part of the crop if we could just get more rain.”
UC-Davis Department of Entomology: http://entomology.ucdavis.edu
Wooten’s Golden Queens: http://wootensgoldenqueens.com