Bloom will be late
During mid-January every year, I check the early-blooming Sonora variety on an early-blooming Kern County orchard (located on the south side of Kimberlina Rd., just west of Hwy 99; variety names are marked at the ends of each row). I was surprised yesterday at how tight the buds were (are). The cold weather has held buds back to the point where bloom will be at least a week later than in past recent years. Once it starts, though, it will come in a hurry, likely giving a flash bloom that we haven’t experienced for a long time. We usually plan to have all the bees in almond orchards by Feb. 10th; this year we’re figuring Feb. 15th to 20th. We might not see full bloom on the hardshells until March 1. A significant potential advantage of this late bloom will be less chance for frost damage during and after bloom.
Our two main bee sources are from other states and from Southern California (So. Cal bees go to Kern County orchards; the others go to both Kern and to counties north of Kern). We are ready to move the out-of-state bees in any time (most are stockpiled here). Cold weather has delayed population build up in the So. Cal bees so, for the colonies that haven’t yet attained good populations, the longer we can keep them down there, the better product we can deliver (in any case you will be getting 8-frame bees but we’d like to deliver the 10 to 15 frame bees you have been used to getting). Colony populations of our out-of-state beekeepers look very good – well over 8-frames – but required quite a bit of beekeeper shuffling, dropping some, taking on others — to attain such levels.
Flower bud set
The bud set in the orchard I looked at was sub-par. Could have been disease. It’s also possible that a no-pruning program has restricted bud-wood renewal (would take a few years on such a regimen to exhibit such an effect). The original idea behind annual pruning was to keep the trees forever young and that fruiting spurs should be renewed every 6 years to accomplish this. Check your orchard to see that you maintain good fruiting wood (hedging could help here, but not both sides of a row in a given year).
Flash Bloom and Fungicides
Almond trees are set up for a flash bloom after a very cold winter. We haven’t had a flash-bloom for years because we haven’t had a cold winter for years – until this year. With a flash bloom, most flowers are receptive for maybe 1 or 2 days (vs. 5 to 8 days after a mild winter). Fungicide applications during a period of peak flower receptivity can restrict pollen germination (and subsequent fruit set). Chances are that a fungicide application on a given day in past years would affect only a relatively small % of the total number of flowers. This year, if you pick the wrong day for an application it could have a negative effect on most of your blossoms. You wouldn’t turn a hose on your prize dog (horse, bull, hog) in the middle of a mating event. Why douse your flowers during the almond-mating event?
Dimilin Damages Bees
The insect growth regulator (IGR) Dimilin is sometimes mixed with fungicides. The label on dimilin says non-toxic to bees but this only applies to adult bees. Dimilin has been shown to damage bee larvae with subsequent significant damage to bee colonies.
Around January 10th, about 100 colonies of bees were stolen from a Kern County stockpile site at the intersection of I-5 and Hwy 119 (Taft Hwy). The hives were well-marked with the beekeeper’s name (James Wickerd) and address on both sides all the boxes; such marking usually deters thefts. Bee thieves though either re-paint the hives, or transfer the frames to other boxes. The shortage of bees this year will likely trigger more thefts. Such thefts usually occur just prior to almond bloom, or directly from almond orchards.
Climate Change/Global Warming
You may have seen the occasional TV programs/articles that document the earlier blooming of native plants in the Rockies and in England – over a 10+ year period these species bloom a bit earlier every year (but maybe not this year); this phenomenon has been attributed to climate change caused by man-made global warming. So why will almonds bloom later than normal this year? In the first place, almonds are not native (to California); also, our Valley climate is unique. What about the unusually cold winter (or first- half-winter) we just went through? Your smart-alec climate-change advocate will refer you Charles Greene’s article in the December Scientific American – Greene predicted our cold winter and attributed it to changing arctic air patterns caused by melting Arctic ice. These man-made global warming believers can be annoying, as they’re always trying to get in the last word. Always.