Search Beesource.com



Beekeeper Newsletter – May 11, 2009

2009 Season
In spite of low almond prices, we again had 100% collections from almond growers (and 100% beekeeper payments). This reflects grower satisfaction with our service and your bees.

Almond prices have held steady in recent weeks – about $1.45/lb for Nonpareil, $0.95 for hardshells. The current crop forecast (out May 8) is for a 1.45 billion lb crop, down 10% from last year’s 1.6 billion lb crop. The current crop estimate surprised some growers (it shouldn’t have) who were hoping that a lesser crop would have a salutary effect on prices. What the current crop estimate will do to almond prices (or whether it will have any effect at all) is anybody’s guess, especially in the current economic climate, and depends on whether you’re and optimist or a pessimist. As an optimist, I feel that almond prices have bottomed out and will only increase in coming months. My track record on economic forecasts, however, is not one that I am proud of.

Our Team – Working for You
There is no way we would be successful, and able to command a premium price for bees, without the efforts of our two main fieldmen, Bill Mathewson and Neil Trent (assisted, on occasion by Steve Wernett and Geurt Lanphen).

Bill and Neil are our, and your, representatives to our almond clients and both do an outstanding job. Over the years they have gained the trust and respect of growers and have established an easy rapport with most of our growers (better than mine in some cases). Next time you run across Bill or Neil, tell them Thanks.

Flowers Need Bees, Bees Need Flowers (flowers like sun, and bees like sunflowers)
The continuing publicity on bee problems (and thanks, again, to Dave Hackenberg who started the whole thing) has spurred some communities to establish bee flora in parks and medians (in Berkeley, as might be expected, such plans have drawn opposition from those that feel that attracting stinging insects to parks puts their children at risk).

San Francisco state biologist, Gretchen LeBuhn, is leading a Great Sunflower Project, distributing seeds throughout the U.S. and Canada. See www.greatsunflowers.org

U.C. entomologist, Walt Bentley, is encouraging the planting of sunflowers near peaches. Predators of Oriental Fruit Moth (OFM) a major pests of peaches, are sustained by sunflowers; so don’t be surprised when you see sunflowers bordering an orchard.

Kleinschmidt Speaks
The following was put forth by Australia’s Grahm Kleinschmidt in the 1980s and is quite applicable to conditions in the U.S. today:

A viable beekeeping industry requires land management that promotes polleniferous flora. If the present decline in available pollen resources continues, the effects of poor protein nutrition will make honey production uneconomic. If this eventuates, the major national cost will be to agricultural production which will be adversely affected by the inability of the beekeeping industry to service entomophilous crops.

Rabbitbrush
A few years back we sent you the prose-poem by Richard Dalby (reprinted below) that extols the virtues of rabbitbrush far better than I could. Every year, some of our best almond bees are those that have spent the fall on rabbitbrush. The reward from securing a rabbitbrush location may exceed the energy expended on the endeavor.

The Thing About Rabbitbrush – - by Richard Dalby (Levan, Utah)
From the American Bee Journal, October 1998, page 707

Lucky is the beekeeper whose hives, come autumn, are located near an expanse of rabbitbrush. Why so? Well, I’ll get to that in a bit, but first something about the plant itself. Sometimes known as rayless goldenrod, rabbitbrush (Chryothamnus spp.) is a shrubby native perennial plant, with dozens of different species throughout the western United States. The leaves are narrow with a pungent odor when crushed. Depending on location, rabbitbrush blooms as early as July and continues as late as December, with late August through October being most typical. The small yellow flowers form large composite clusters. Rabbitbrush can grow as high as 6 feet, but three or four feet is more typical. It prefers uncultivated areas and does well where little else would grow. Rabbitbrush can be counted on to bloom no matter the year.

The honey plants manuals are not particularly keen on rabbitbrush as a nectar source. The honey is typically described as being of poor quality, with a bad odor and taste, and quick to granulate. Perhaps so, in some locales, but the rabbtbrush honey my bees have gathered, on the rare occasions when they gather a surplus, has been better than the books suggest. Pungent, to be sure, when first gathered, but taming down a bit when granulated to a fine consistency. Some customers have grown downright fond of rabbitbrush honey on a warm buttered muffin. Would my bees could gather more of it. But most of what they bring in goes to pack the brood nest for the coming winter.

But it is not as a honey plant that rabbitbrush truly shines. Its greater importance is as a source of pollen. And for this it is unmatched in my area, yielding an abundance of orange-colored pollen just when the bees need it most. Add to its credentials that the plant is resistant to early frost. Often the incoming pollen leaves a characteristic yellow stain on new comb, so comb honey producers in rabbitbrush areas must remove their section boxes before the plant starts to bloom. But by that time, the comb honey season is pretty well over anyway.

Research done by Dr. C.L. Farrar and others some years ago pointed up the great importance to the wintering hive of adequate pollen reserves. Going into winter, a colony should have a reserve of some 500 to 600 square inches of stored pollen. This equates to roughly four to five frames packed with pollen. This pollen reserve makes it possible for an overwintering hive to begin rearing brood as early as January. Such a hive by spring has the new bees needed to replace winter losses. So, in a nutshell, fall pollen means spring bees. For a beekeeper, this is a crucial equation.

Now here’s the thing about rabbitbrush. It supplies this all-important fall pollen, reliably and abundantly, at a time when pollen from other sources is hard to find. For this, the plant deserves more praise than it usually gets. I’m certain other beekeepers in the western United States feel the same way.

Book Recommendation
West of the West by Mark Arax (when a writer gets a blurb from Joan Didion, you know he’s doing something right). The book is a compilation of essays on California, most of them based in our San Joaquin Valley. Nine pages are devoted to Stewart Resnick (who comes off as a pretty decent chap).

Zap ‘Em at the Gap
As you are aware, varroa control is much better when there is little brood in the hive (for every mite running loose, figure 10 to 20 more in brood cells). Ceasing fall feeding for a 2 to 3 week period in early December can give a gap in brood rearing that allow miticides to be more effective. Feeding can resume in late December.

Keep in Touch
We’ll get a newsletter out in August to let you know how the almond situation is shaping up. In the meantime, call us anytime to let us know how great your bees are doing and the record amounts of honey you are making.
Joe Traynor, Mgr.