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Thursday, February 19, 2015

Buds, Bees and Bloom- Part 3: Bloom

The final and most gorgeous B of our pollination series is Bloom!

This time of year we see all kinds of photographers and city dealers coming out to any almond orchard trying to capitalize on the beautiful sight. It is my favorite time of year for just admiring the beauty our crop showcases and how lucky we are to enjoy this beauty every day. And I can't lie, it is a good time for almond farmers to take beautiful family pictures as well! How doesn't love a good photo op?


But bloom is not just a time for pretty photos, it's the time of year farmers look to a crop prediction. Bloom is a time when almond brokers stop selling and almond buyers stop buying.  They patiently wait to see what the bloom set will be. Bloom set is the predictor of how many flowers are viable for almond production and an estimate to how many pounds of almonds the trees will produce this year. To a farmer, bloom is when every one weighs in on who is going to have the biggest crop or who's bloom was too late or too early.

Next to harvest, bloom really is the most important time of the year. If it rains during bloom, we could have mold build up on the flowers which would kill the flower and potential of the nut. If we get a big wind storm during bloom, it could blow off all our flowers leaving nothing to be pollinated. If we get temperatures too hot, bloom will happen too fast and won't give those bees enough time to pollinate all the flowers. If we get temperatures too cold, the bees will be unhappy and stay in the hives. What is perfect? Sunny afternoons between 60 and 80 degrees. 

So really, farmers are praying for the perfect conditions during bloom. The bees will arrive when the orchard is about 10-15% bloom. This will give the bees time to get acclimated to the orchard prior to getting to work with full bloom.When the orchard is in full bloom we want those bees to know where they are going and to be able to work most efficiently. Those flowers won't be open forever before they decide to start making an almond.

You had no idea an almond had so many steps did you? I hope this pollination series helped you to understand why those blooms are so important and why we need to save those bees! Make sure to take some time to stop and enjoy the almond bloom!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl

Friday, February 13, 2015

Buds, Bees and Bloom- Part 2: Bees

Our almond buds have broken and the bloom has started, now it's time for the bees to start working! Our 2nd B in our three part pollination series is Bees.
Bees are a vital part of the almond production process. Without the bees to pollinate the flowers, we would have no almonds to speak of. Almonds are self-infertile, meaning they need pollen from a different variety to produce a nut. Bees are needed to carry pollen from one almond variety to another, to ensure cross pollination

Working Bees
Beekeepers work all year to ensure their bees are healthy and happy. Bees use almond blooms as an essential part of their natural nutrients needed to survive. They may only be in the almond orchard for a month, but it is the most important month of the bees life. Almond pollen is critical to the life of the bee and bees are critical to the life of the almond. So it only makes sense that the beekeepers and almond farmers work closely together to ensure proper bee health.

Starting in the fall, we discuss bee hive needs and contract agreements with our beekeeper. In January, we discuss our fungicide spray timing to ensure we complete spraying in the most cautious and bee friendly manor possible. We also talk timing of bud break and when we expect bloom to begin so we can properly time moving the bees into the field. During this critical time it is important to maintain frequent communication with each other. Farmers want to ensure hive strength and quality is being assessed for best almond production.


Beekeepers checking on their hive strength prior to bloom
In the last 30 years or so beekeepers have been fighting diseases and mites in their bee hives. Recently, the struggle has been the Varroa mite. Varroa mite is an insect that is threatening the great relationship bees have with the crops they feed on. This mite feeds on the blood of honey bees and leaves its eggs in the hive, causing an infestation and weakening of the hives called colony collapse. Colony collapse has already taken claim to thousands of bee hives and is threatening the livelihood of bees, beekeepers and almond pollination. It is insects like the varroa mite that only strengthen the relationship farmers must have with the beekeepers to ensure proper care and health of the bees. Beekeepers work hard through the summer to ensure the mite population is gone by fall. Over the winter months is when the hive losses are most high.
Other then the mite, beekeepers also struggle the drought in California. Bees are only in almond orchards for a month or so, meaning bees need other crops to forage on for the rest of the year. The amount of natural wildflowers and pastures present in the spring and summer is increasingly low due to our lack of rain and snow we have received the last 3 winters. Beekeepers are having to feed supplemental pollen to their hives when they aren't able to find natural homes for their bees.
With the help of the Almond Board's Honey Bee Best Management Practices guide farmers and beekeepers have been able to receive much needed resources to help them work together to maintain the bee populations. So remember, next time you see that little bee fly by you, protect him. We need to save our bees to protect our almond supply!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Buds, Bees and Bloom- Part 1: Buds

Buds, Bees and Bloom. Its pollination time!
These three B's are vital parts to a successful almond pollination and production. Over the next couple weeks I will walk you through Pollination's 3 B's and how each one is an important step to almond farmers.


First up, buds. In the Central Valley we are experiencing plenty of foggy days mixed in with a couple of sunny 70 degree days every once in awhile. These sunny days are important this time of the year to help those little almond buds grow. The bud is the first stage the almond bloom goes through. In the middle of January the buds start to push, meaning the buds will begin to break open and swell slightly, eventually showing just a hint of pink or white color.

It is this stage we can tell if the buds are going to be flower buds or vegetative buds. At this point the difference between vegetative and flower buds is the flower buds look huge in size in comparison to vegetative buds.

The vegetative buds will make new shoots and leaves for the tree. These buds are important in order for the tree to have plenty of energy and protection for those little almonds. Vegetative buds will also start to push around this time and in a month or so new leaves will be showing up on the trees.

Flower buds will turn to bloom and be pollinated by the bees. These buds are most important to farmers because these will become the almond. Not every little bud will make a viable bloom, and not every bloom will make an almond. So it is very important to make sure we protect each bud to ensure we have a successful almond production.

It is during bud break that we will communicate with our beekeeper of the timing the bees will arrive!

Until Next Time,
Almond Girl