We just returned from checking on our bees in California. Our honeybees take part in the greatest migration of honeybees in the world. California has one million acres of almonds that require two colonies per acre to pollinate. These bees are critical for the trees to produce nuts. Over two-thirds of all honeybee colonies in the United States help out the almond growers including our bees. This also allows our bees to bypass the Wisconsin winters that can cause colonies to die. The bees arrive back here in Wisconsin at the end of March ready to go!
I had the opportunity to visit the California almond blossom spectacle with my son Joe and we couldn't have timed it better. Because of the warm weather all the tree varieties were blooming at the same time in the three Central Valley regions - South, Central and North. We were able to visit with some of the most interesting beekeepers in the business. What makes them interesting is that they range in size from 2800 to 20,000 colonies of bees managed and their business are all different.
All of them start the year renting colonies to almond growers to pollinate the almonds. After the pollination is finished in early March, some produce package bees for other beekeepers (Click here for my blog on package bees), most raise queens for the beekeeping industry and hobby beekeepers, some move their bees onto other crops across the country for pollination and they all produce honey. Some keep their bees in California for honey production and others move their bees to the Northern Plains for honey crops.
Here are a few photos of the trip.
6800 almond growers in California churn out 80% of the world's supply!
Joe Pegorsch taking in the great aroma of billions(trillions) of almond blossoms.
Coming from the Wisconsin winter, it is great to see honeybees flying!
Almond trees blossom very early in the California season while most other trees are dormant. A comparison would be if apple trees blossomed in late March/early April in Wisconsin.
Honeybees are vital to the almond industry. An industry that is worth 11 billion dollars to the California economy.
The early start to the honeybee's season allows for colonies to build up so they can be divided to replace colonies that did not survive the previous year, through the winter or to supply hobbyist beekeepers with bees for their hives.
A large part of the California beekeeping industry is raising honeybee queens for the rest of the United States. These women are grafting honeybee larvae into queen cell cups. These queen cell cups will be placed in queen-less hives. The worker bees in those hives recognize that they have no queen and quickly start feeding these queen cells royal jelly. The generous amounts of royal jelly that these larvae are fed with turn the worker bee larvae into queen larvae, pupae and eventually a virgin queen. The virgin queens are placed in mating nucs (tiny hives) and will mate high in the air with drones (male honeybees) from surrounding hives. The queens will then be caged and shipped to beekeepers across the United States.
The hives outside the windows are the queen producers breeder queens. These queens are the best of the best and their eggs are used for raising new queens. The beekeeper pulls combs of one day old larvae from the hives and hands the combs through the window. The women use a tiny spoon called a grafting tool to scoop the larvae up and place them in the queen cell cup.
These colonies are currently pollinating almonds but in a few weeks some of the excess bees that they have raised will be shook from the hives and sold to hobby beekeepers to stock their hive with. Most of the bees supplied to sideline and holy beekeepers comes from California nd the Southeast United States. These are the areas that have the early jump on Spring.
Almond trees are self-incompatible so they cannot pollinate themselves. Rows are planted by alternative almond varieties to insure that blossoms are properly cross pollinated.
The Central Valley of California is bordered by the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the East (Seen in the background of this photo), the Klamath mountains in the north the Tehachapi Mountains in the South and the Pacific coast ranges in the West.