California Almonds: Remove Bee Hives at the Optimum Time

    With almond bloom winding down, it is vital growers track petal fall and crop development in their orchards so that bee hives are released to beekeepers and removed from the orchard at the optimum time. Hive removal is a balancing act: Take honey bees out of the orchard too soon, and yields could be reduced due to incomplete pollination. But leaving hives too long risks exposing bees to pesticides applied to other crops, as bees travel beyond almond orchards in search of food.

    Best Practices

    According to the University of California, bees should be removed when 90% of the latest blooming variety is at petal fall. At this point pollination in orchards is effectively complete. Bees not removed at this time may travel up to 4 miles outside of orchards in search of alternative food sources. During that time they risk coming into contact with other insecticide-treated crops that may be detrimental to honey bee health.

    In addition to orchard observations regarding the timing of removal, the Honey Bee Best Management Practices (BMPs) recommend that growers and beekeepers discuss expectations for hive removal in the development of pollination agreements prior to the pollination season. By doing this, the grower and beekeeper develop a clear delineation of responsibility and can avoid misunderstandings.

    Yearlong Considerations

    As the pollination season comes to a close, it is also important growers and beekeepers monitor hives for suspected pesticide-related incidents. Abnormal hive conditions due to suspected pesticide impacts should be immediately reported to the local county agricultural commissioner’s office so that important data can be collected about these occurrences. Some specific symptoms to look for include lack of foraging honey bees in a normally attractive blooming crop, lethargic or immobile bees, and excessive numbers of dead bees in front of hives. A full list of signs and symptoms can be found at the link below from The Almond Board of California.

    Even after bees leave almond orchards, almond growers can continue to play a part in protecting honey bee health. Given California’s diversity of agricultural products, honey bees often remain a part of the landscape beyond almond bloom by pollinating other crops.

    Pesticide applicators, particularly those applying insecticides, are encouraged to contact their local county agricultural commissioner year-round to give advance notification to beekeepers with nearby managed hives. According to Eric Mussen, UC Davis Extension apiculturist emeritus, several of the BMP recommendations, including this one, “go far beyond the almond orchard, providing important insights regarding all crops when it comes to promoting honey bee health.”

    More detailed guidelines on hive removal and honey bee health considerations are available online at Almonds.com/BeeBMPs.




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