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Stories from the valley

The Hardest Workers in the Sacramento Valley

Contributed by Steve Beckley

There are over 135,000 acres of almonds in the Sacramento Valley and the bloom season is well underway. According to the Almond Board of California; “Honey bees are essential for a successful almond crop. The single most important factor determining a good yield is pollination during the bloom period, and honey bees are the most successful pollinators of almonds blossoms. Colonies of honey bees are placed in California almond orchards at the beginning of the bloom period to ensure pollination”. As you drive through the valley you will see and smell the beautiful orchards and most have bee hives in them.

Bees and other pollinators are important to Sacramento Valley agriculture. California does not have enough bees to pollinate the almond crop, in 2017 almond pollination season, a total of 1.7 million colonies were shipped into California according to apiary shipment numbers provided by the California Department of Food and Agriculture. Many of the out of state bees come from major honey-producing states of North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. Most almond growers rent colonies of bees to pollinate their crops. Many of the bees will continue their work in the valley after almonds helping pollinate hybrid sunflowers, vegetable seeds and other crops.

I enjoy taking photographs of the almond blossoms and most of the time I exist peacefully with the bees that are hard at work. Until now, I had never looked at the bee operations up close and personal. Recently, I joined Jim Watson and Kyle Wiggins of Arbuckle, in a Dunnigan almond orchard as they verified the colony strength of bees to insure the grower was getting what they paid for. No issues were found but I learned a lot about bees. A colony of bees consists of a queen and the workers and they live in a hive. It takes about 1.5 to 2 hives per acre to pollinate an acre of almonds. It is important that the grower, hive owners and pest control adviser work closely together to insure the health of the bees.

A notable place to learn about bees and pollination is the UC Davis Honey and Pollination Center. They also have information on how to have a bee friendly garden.

No bees were harmed during research on this blog, but I did get stung a couple of times. Fortunately I am not allergic to bee stinks. They just didn’t seem to understand that I just wanted to give them positive PR on all the wonderful things they do for Sacramento Valley agriculture.

Also, to help celebrate the contributions of bees, attend the California Honey Festival on May 5 in Woodland.