I admit to being a hypocrite sometimes. We all know that monocultures are NOT a healthy or natural environment for bees. And the CA almond crop is a monoculture of the highest order. Vast acreages, as far as the eye can see, of neat, laser-straight rows of almond trees, and nothing else. That’s what the girls get to eat for three weeks, almond nectar, almond pollen, more almond nectar, more almond pollen, more almond nectar, more almond nectar, more almond pollen, you get the idea. Gag.
And there sure isn’t anything healthy or natural about moving a beehive hundreds of miles on the back of a flatbed truck in the dead of night. And back again two months later.
For many Californians, the lure of easy money brings them for short stays to Reno. For some of us beekeepers in Reno, the lure of easy money lies just over the hill, in the California almond orchards.
Seven hundred and fifty THOUSAND acres of the Califonia Central Valley region are dedicated to growing this tasty nut.* And they need our bees! Two hives for every acre is optimum, they say, so that creates a demand for a one-and-a-half MILLION beehives. They only want the bees around while the trees are in bloom, of course, so they bring in bees from all over the country.
And because well-pollinated almond trees produce a ton of nuts per acre, the growers are willing to pay well for our little pollinators. Rents are in the neighborhood of $150 – $200 per hive, for the 3 week period the almonds are in bloom. Sounds like a lot, but it’s less than 10% of the overall per-acre cost of the almond business, for this critical service, so the growers pay it, gladly.
The almond bloom is going on right now, and some of my beekeeper friends have their hives in those almond orchards. Part of me thinks it’s a great idea. We added the four River School Farm hives to a truckload of Reno area hives headed west last month for this bloom. I created a Pollination Consolidators page in the Northern Nevada Beekeepers Association website just so area beekeepers that want to jump on that west-bound truck next year can get in touch with commercial beekeepers willing to add some more hives.
I like that we live so close to the action. While some commercial beekeepers truck their hives thousands of miles from Florida and the East coast, for us it’s right over the hill to the holding yards in Grass Valley. I like that we can be part of this important annual event that generates revenue streams for people that I know and helps fuel scientific research for the betterment of beekeeping in general.
But, will I add my own hive to the west-bound foray next spring? I don’t think so. I don’t like the idea of subjecting my babies to even a two hour drive to the holding yard on a bouncing flatbed, force-fed to stimulate early brood rearing, then moved again into the orchard, and it’s work, work, work with nothing to eat but almond this and almond that, and then another bouncy trip back home again. Not my babies. I’m such a hypocrite.
Added 4/29/12: For more on the Almond Pollination / Beekeeping symbiosis, check out Randy Oliver’s “2012 Almond Pollination Update” in the April issue of American Bee Journal!
* Bee Culture, Feb 2012, “Inner Cover”