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Almond Grower Newsletter – February 8, 2010

Who’s Laughing Now?
You may have endured laughs in recent months about the high price you’re paying for bees from Scientific Ag Co. (aka Traynor bees). Now that many bee colonies are crashing throughout California its your turn to laugh. The bees in your orchard are up to our usual standards because our beekeepers could afford the necessary inputs to meet these standards.

As indicated in the enclosed Notes From The Almond Conference (Feb. 2010 Bee Culture, p. 35) it costs in excess of $200/colony to get 8-frame colonies for almonds (make that $400 per remaining colony if you get hit with a 50% winter loss as some beekeepers have). A major input to getting strong almond colonies is supplemental feeding starting in September (in order to get a hatch of young bees going into winter). A beekeeper won’t invest in September feeding unless he has a solid pollination commitment by August. Growers that delay making bee contracts until November or later are shooting themselves in the foot; same for beekeepers although this is “business as usual” for many almond and bee operations.

Because our beekeepers know well before September that they will be getting a fair price for their almond bees, they provide the necessary inputs to get the quality of bees you see in your orchards. In some cases we have advanced beekeepers money for these inputs.

Lets Split!
The word split is a common beekeeping term meaning dividing a strong colony into two weaker ones. Many beekeepers split colonies in the fall in order to make their almond numbers. Supplemental feeding of these splits (or good bee pasture in So. California) will bring these splits to 8-frame strength by almond bloom. Some beekeepers will split 12-frame colonies in January giving two 6-frame colonies (less than our standard). A few beekeepers will make a 4-way split, making four 3-frame colonies out of one 12-frame colony. In beekeeping circles, such a split is known as the Grand Slam of splits. Beekeepers making four 3-frame colonies from a 4-way split and renting these 3-framers for $100/colony (as some do) fare better than the beekeeper that rents 12-frame colonies for $180/colony. We discourage splits and you will usually see many 12-frame colonies in your orchards. Beekeepers renting 4-way splits laugh all the way to the bank at the unenlightened beekeepers that refuse to make splits for almonds.

Strong Colonies Pay Their Way
As indicated in the enclosed reprint The Strong vs. Weak Hive Controversy (American Bee Journal Feb, 1977) strong colonies “can do on an average of ten times as much pollination than do the weaker colonies”.

Math Exercise

1. If a strong colony rents for $180 and puts out 10 times as many workers as a weak colony, what should the weak colony rent for? Answer: $18/colony

2. If a strong colony rents for $180 and puts out 100 times as many worker as a weak colony (and yes, Virginia, there are such colonies in almond orchards) what should the weak colony rent for? Answer__________

Orchard Visits
As we do every year, I, or one of our fieldmen (Bill Mathewson, Neil Trent, Steve Wernett or Jeff Whillock) will call you to look at the colonies in your orchard. Such visits are our best sales tool and your opportunity to be assured that you are receiving full value for your bee investment. If you have a bean counter in your organization that has never seen the inside of a bee hive bring them along, or bring a camera – a picture is worth 900+ words (and we’re already getting too wordy here).

Counter Point
Bean counters in large organizations can make themselves look good by getting bee rentals at below-market prices and showing their superiors the thousands of dollars they are saving. Historically, though, in the almond game, bee counters last longer in their positions than bean counters.

Like a Good Neighbor (your bees are there)

In the 1970s, UC, Davis researchers ran an extensive study on the foraging range of bees in almond orchards (see enclosed reprint from the Journal of Apicultural Research 1976 and 1978).

They concluded “The ability of bees to forage well away from their hives, even during very cool weather in early spring, is evident in this study” and recommended “pollination districts” with growers within a district sharing bee costs. The latter will never happen, but be aware that your bees will seek and find orchards within a 2-mile radius where there is less competition than they incur at their home base. Such orchards are usually stocked with sub-par colonies. The number of bees per tree in these orchards may be similar to yours, but it’s your bees in their trees. We all like to be good neighbors but with almond pollination you can bee too good to your neighbors.

Fungicides and Bees
With current rainy weather likely to continue during bloom, I realize that fungicide applications are vital to protect your crop. Fungicide applications can damage bees when there are significant amounts of exposed pollen on the flowers. You don’t see a bee kill as you do with insecticides, but bees feed “contaminated” pollen to larvae with lethal effects. Time your fungicide applications when there is little pollen on the flowers – usually after 3PM, if you can. The pollen-shedding period for almonds is relatively short; try to avoid spraying during this period. Rovral and Pristine are more harmful to bees than most; Captan is also harmful but most Captan is applied petal fall, when there is no pollen left in the orchard.

Follow Your Money – March 2nd Luncheon
$1/colony of your bee rental fee goes to bee research; our beekeepers match that dollar with a dollar of their own. Most of these funds go to Project ApisM, that funds bee research projects throughout the U.S. Most current research is focused on CCD (Colony Collapse Disorder) and some progress is being made (see enclosed reprint, Clarity on Honey Bee Collapse from the January 8 issue of SCIENCE).

Dan Cummings and Christi Heintz are the guiding forces behind Project ApisM and both will be here on March 2nd to talk with growers and beekeepers in our area. Please plan to join them and us at Don Perico’s in Shafter on March 2nd for a complimentary lunch starting at noon (301 East Lerdo Hwy). Dan and Chris will explain where your money is and will be going (may go to 2PM).

Check out the website www.projectapisM.org for more information and links to other bee and almond information.

Hope to see you and look at bees in the next couple of weeks. If not, on March 2nd for sure.

Joe Traynor