of blooms and bees

Magnolias are not the only trees in full flower now in the Santa Clara Valley — the almonds, too are coated with white blossoms.

almond tree blossoms

Heavy rains and a week of warm weather have triggered flowering.

almond flowers

It’s a sea of white blossoms up close to one of these trees.

 almond tree blossoms

But where are the bees?

California is the largest almond producer in the world, harvesting 80% of the world’s crop over almost 1 million acres.  Almond production is almost entirely dependent on the services of about 2 million hives of honeybees, trucked into the orchards just as the trees reach peak flowering.

almond orchard-almonds.com

What an overwhelming task, to pollinate an entire orchard of blooming trees, a service provided by the humble honeybee in exchange for a place to live.  (Photo from http://www.almonds.com)

Almonds are just one of the many crops that honeybees pollinate, as they are moved from farm to farm to perform their service.  Although almond varieties that are self-fertile (thus, not requiring pollinator services) have been developed, the yield is far less than bee-pollinated varieties, and the nuts are harder-shelled and less nutritious.

map_of_commercial_pollination

Apples, cherries, blueberries, avocados, oranges, melons of all sorts, cucumbers — all are heavily dependent on bee pollination.  All told, it has been estimated that honeybees alone add about $29 billion value to the U.S. farm economy.

honeybee pollinating almond flower

the humble honeybee going about its work…

We know that honeybees are suffering declines due to pesticides, neonicotinoids, mites, and for perhaps a host of other reasons that lead to the “colony collapse disorder” in honeybee hives.  It’s hard to imagine what our diets would be like without the services of this small insect that is so crucial to our crop production.

6 thoughts on “of blooms and bees

    • That’s an interesting question, Amelia, and I had to “Google” an answer. First off, almond flowers are nectar poor, so the bees are mainly collecting pollen. They end up consuming more of their own honey stores than making honey from almond nectar. In addition, almond farmers put out so many hives, to ensure removal of pollen from all flowers, the bees are actually in competition for limited nectar resources, and they have to be supplemented with additional food. However, that said, almond honey is marketed in California — as you might expect, it is less sweet and nuttier tasting.

      Thanks for asking!!

      • Interesting, I think (I’m not certain here) that although nectar is the main constituent of honey, pollen can also add to the honey’s flavour. In any event, I would like to try almond honey – in fact, I do enjoy trying to discover all the flavours in the different honeys.

  1. According this article, when there aren’t enough bees to pollinate the almond orchards, the almond farmers get so desperate, they get bees from as far away as Florida. http://healthimpactnews.com/2014/are-california-almonds-destroying-the-u-s-bee-supply/
    If the almond trees are blooming now, I can probably expect those commercial hives up here in less than a month, to pollinate the cranberry bogs.
    According to the above link…
    “Beekeeper Ed Colby described the consequences of bringing together bees from all around the United States and letting them mingle together. The result is “bees come back from California loaded with mites and every other disease you can think of. … But the upside is they pay you money, and it’s good money.” But I’m not getting paid well and MY bees might suffer.

    A friend of mine said there were a lot of cases this year of bee hive theft. Thieves will rob from one orchard to deliver to another orchard and no questions are asked as to the source…

    • I didn’t realize that hive theft was a problem, but can see why, when bees are more fragile than ever, and in such high demand. Thanks for writing, and for the information provided!

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