The 2018 almond pollination season is over and boy was it an eventful one. I am reminded of how massive the honeybee migration in and out of the state of California is when I see the steady stream of trucks hauling bees down the central valley. When I worked out of town I saw beekeeping trucks parked at every hotel off of highway 99, which runs through the heart of almond country. I took the time to meet a few of these beekeepers from all over the US. There were two main narratives that I heard. The first was that it was an usually high winter loss year (one beekeeper I spoke to had 60% winter losses). The second was the terrible pollination weather we had.
As far as winter losses go, we didn’t have that problem. As a matter of fact, we slightly exceeded our target hive count for pollination. Also, due to the very mild winter that we had, our hives were unusually strong for the month of February. In California we are spoiled anyway, but our winter this year was so mild that the hives never really shut down brood production for winter. I recall seeing drones in the hives even in January.
Then there was the weather. We hadn’t gotten a drop of rain all winter until the almonds started to bloom. Right around mid-February (when the almonds started to bloom), winter finally decided to show up. We had a one week long storm that dumped quite a bit of rain (I won’t mention the inches of rain as our east coast friends would probably laugh out loud). The following week we had a freeze followed by more rain. To make a long story short, it’s not looking like a good year for almonds. On the Brightside, we did get a couple of days of decent flight weather and our girls rose to the occasion. When we were picking up our hives we noticed how much fruit-set our customer had. Those strong hives really made a difference when it came to crunch time. However, the weather did fake out our hives. The average hive actually lost weight during pollination. In other words, the bees were consuming more resources than they were bringing in. Some hives even went into emergency mode and began kicking out drones. Even so, we should be poised to have a good year.
in the video below, I managed to catch a worker bee pulling a drone with chewed up wings out of the hive. It just demonstrates how ruthless honeybees can be when it comes to survival. When things get though, the drones get going.
Our customer is bringing another almond orchard online in 2019 and we need to double our operation in order to keep up with demand. That means that our next move is to begin queen rearing. Your operation is only as good as the queens you produce and there are many factors that contribute to quality queens. It is this challenge that makes queen rearing one of my favorite things to do. So for me, the fun has just begun.
I hope that you all have a wonderful beekeeping year and make lots of honey!