Almond Grower Newsletter – December 14, 2015

2016 Bee Supply: We’re in the process of fine-tuning our bee numbers. Winter losses won’t be known until mid-January after beekeepers go through their colonies culling out those that died or that didn’t maintain colony strength – cull-out rates can exceed 50% for our beekeepers. By having a large number of suppliers to draw from I am optimistic that the bee colonies that we provide you will be up to our standards. Many, maybe most beekeepers would rather rent 100% of their colonies at a reduced price rather than rent only a portion of them at a premium price, then try to find a home for those that don’t make grade. It takes many costly inputs for beekeepers to provide the type of colonies that you have come to expect from us.

A Rainy Bloom? Many of us can’t remember the last time we had a really rainy bloom – maybe 1958 when the statewide almond crop was less than 200#/acre. Almond flowers hold back pollen when it rains, then shed the pollen during better weather between storms. Strong bee colonies can set a crop in a few hours of sunny weather, after blossoms have dried.

Fungicides and Bees: We may see record numbers of fungicide applications in 2016. Please don’t apply fungicides when bees are working, or when the flowers are shedding pollen. Fungicides can kill pollen as well as fungi. Release bees promptly when flowers have no more pollen so that bees aren’t exposed to petal-fall sprays. There is some evidence that concentrate fungicide sprays are more hazardous to bees than dilute sprays. Never add IGRs (Insect Growth Regulators) to the spray tank; IGRs can damage bee larvae (brood).

Road Worriers: Keep roads serviceable if possible. Allow early bee deliveries if it looks like a storm is coming. Some growers apply oil to roads to make them accessible to bee trucks during wet weather. Check out (661)833-8311; click on Road Dust Control for a company that can apply enough oil to allow trucks to drive; the oil won’t be permanent (for dust control) unless you want to pay more, but can give a temporary access boost.

Self-Fertile Almonds: The self-fertile Independence variety (from Dave Wilson Nursery) looks good on current plantings. Other nurseries have self-fertile varieties and UC is developing some. Self- varieties are the wave of the future, not so much to save on bee-rental costs, but to make orchard management easier (esp. a one-time harvest). If you’re short on harvest equipment consider planting varieties that harvest sequentially. If you do plant more than one self-variety, get varieties that bloom a week or so apart to spread the risk of poor bloom weather (bloom dates and harvest dates are somewhat correlated). Self-fertile varieties still need bees, maybe ½ to 1 colony/acre. A self-fertile orchard within a mile or two of a standard planting should set a good crop without renting bees since bees will easily fly 2 to 3 miles. Some Independence growers will rent bees just to be a good neighbor, even though they might not have to. Self-fertile orchards allow beekeepers the opportunity to rent their cull hives at discount prices.

Cotton and Football: Most football teams wear polyester jerseys because they look good. Polyester traps body heat and overheating impairs physical performance. Cotton jerseys “breathe” and their cooling effect translates to better performance on the football field. At some future date, odds-makers will give an edge to teams wearing cotton jerseys.

Too Many Cows?: You’ve likely read about the methane that cows belch out every day. Methane is considered by some to be a more potent greenhouse gas than CO2. It has been hard for many, including me, to comprehend that cows are major contributors to global warming. There are 98 million head of cattle in the U.S. and one cow can belch out 150 kilograms of methane a year “which has the same environmental impact as driving from New York to Los Angeles – 3 times.” Science News, November 28, 2015. Ten years ago, air quality in the San Joaquin Valley was significantly better than the L.A. basin. Since then, many So. Cal dairies have relocated to our valley and our air is now far more polluted than L.A.’s. Scientists are working on feeds that will reduce methane emissions by cows. A better long-term solution is to cut back on the amount of meat and milk that we consume.

It’s OK to Believe in Man-Made Global Warming: Evidence continues to pile up that man-made global warming is indeed a significant threat to our planet – not so much for us, but for our grand children and great grand children. 97% of scientists believe the threat of MMGW is real, and an increasing numbers of citizens are coming to the same conclusion. The volume of noise emanating from a very tiny number of non-believers can give the impression that it’s an even debate, when it is not. There is a price tag to implement steps to reduce MMGW, but look at this price as relatively cheap insurance against a potentially catastrophic loss – like fire insurance on your home.

Our Billion Dollar Fog: California’s 2015 cherry crop was dismal (a failure for many) and our pistachio crop was way down. The culprit: insufficient winter chilling (which some feel also affected almond yields). The over-riding effect on chilling the past two years was lack of (or absence of) our normal winter tule fog. On a cold, sunny winter day, bark (and bud) temperatures can be 20 degrees higher than air temperatures. Some cherry and pistachio growers are whitewashing their trees to lower winter bud temperatures by reflecting sunlight. With more moisture this winter, we should have more fog, and consequently much better cherry and pistachio crops in 2016.

Book Notes: Following are brief reviews of 3 books that I found to be worthwhile: Organics –It’s All About the Money by Hiram R. Drache. There are over a hundred books on the virtues of organic farms and organic food (and there are many virtues); Dr. Drache’s book is the only one I know of that offers a different view – that organic food and organic gardening are over-hyped. The Planet Remade – How Geoengineering could change the world by Oliver Morton. Morton believes that we can engineer our way out of global warming. Many would disagree (and I’m also skeptical) but Morton makes a good case, with emphasis on artificial clouds or giant orbiting space mirrors that would deflect sunlight. The Invention of Nature – A biography of Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859) by Andrea Wulf. Humboldt was a prolific over-achiever who changed the way that many, including Charles Darwin and John Muir, viewed then world. The only down side to this book is that Humboldt can make you feel that you should be doing more with your life.

$ For Research: Each year we donate $2/colony ($1 from growers, $1 from beekeepers) for the bee colonies we rent to almond growers. In 2015 we rented 35,958 colonies and distributed $72,000 as follows: Project ApisM ( or PAM): $55.000.00. Frank Eischen (USDA): $4,000 (labor for almond studies). Randy Oliver ( $13,000. $20,000 of the PAM donation is split between Frank Eischen and Bruce Lampinen (UC, Davis) for almond pollination studies.

Call Any Time: Communication is important when it comes time to deliver bees to your orchards. If we don’t pester you as to bee-moving dates, please call us anytime. I should be available by phone 24/7 as we get close to bloom. We have 2 office phones: (661)327-2631 and 327-8101 (if one is busy call the other) + my cell phone (661)809-5551; you should always be able to get through on one of these numbers. If we get buckets of rain in February, it will be a challenging season for both growers and beekeepers. Like you, we will welcome the rain and will also keep in mind the No. 1 axiom of both farming and beekeeping: Mother Nature Always Bats Last.

Sincere best wishes for the Holiday Season and for a bountiful 2016.

Joe Traynor