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Beekeeper Newsletter – July 3, 2002

Mandarins vs. Bees, July 12 meeting
There are several thousand acres of citrus off Hwy 166 in southwest Kern county. A large farm, Sun Pacific, has several hundred acres of young Mandarin oranges in the area and sent a note to all their neighbors this spring asking them to keep bees at least 2 miles from their mandarins (which essentially eliminates any bee placement in the area). The reason: bees can transfer pollen to mandarin blossoms which will result in seeded fruit. Mandarins with more than 1 or 2 seeds are downgraded and the grower receives a lower price.

I didn’t think it was possible to keep bees out of this large an area, but when I visited the area during citrus bloom, it was eerie – not a bee could be seen working citrus.

Being a contrarian, I got permission from 2 growers in the area (1 citrus, 1 grape) to place bees on their ranch next year and paid a visit to Sun Pacific’s manager to inform him that we’d be placing bees within 2 miles of his mandarins next year. The manager convinced me that the potential loss from seeded mandarins was indeed significant (to the point where they couldn’t be sold). He said he’d offered other beekeepers in the area locations on their other citrus in Tulare and Fresno counties and might be able to do the same for us, so I left with a vague possibility of placing bees on his other ranches, but he convinced me not to place bees near his mandarins; doing so could be like contaminating barrels of honey with a foreign substance to the point where the honey couldn’t be sold.

Anyway, much more needs to be learned about bees and mandarins (how far away is far enough? can spraying Gib to set fruit parthenocarpically solve the problem?). Currently it is felt that planting buffer rows of navels around mandarins should solve the problem. (Sun Pacific had different mandarin varieties in the same blocks which made the situation far worse than a solid block of self-incompatible mandarins. A key is putting considerable thought into planting schemes before planting Mandarins).

Mandarins are currently a “hot” commodity with a lot of interest in new plantings. Unlike southwestern Kern county, the patchwork plantings in Tulare and Fresno county make it almost impossible to keep bees out of a given area.

Tracy Kahn, U.C., Riverside, is the mandarin-seed-bee expert and will be giving a talk on the subject July 12 in Tulare (ag Exposition center). The enclosed flyer gives more information. Pass this on to others that might be interested.

Joe Traynor, Mgr.