Almond Board of California Newsletter August 11, 2016
Planting bee forage in and around his almond orchard has paid off for East Oakdale grower Jeff McPhee, who farms 400 acres of almonds with partner Matt Friedrich at Lakeview Ranch. Every year, he plants a mixture of mustards in a field next to the orchard, and every other year, he seeds clover and vetch with a no-till drill in orchard middles. Seed is provided by Project Apis m., which has developed seed mixtures that are particularly nutritious and attractive to honey bees.
Bee forage planted in the fall bloom until long after almond pollination is complete, providing ample, nutritious forage for honey bees through April.
In return, McPhee’s beekeeper, Trevor Tauzer of Tauzer Apiaries, brings McPhee his strongest hives, and makes sure bees are available both early in the season, to catch the early bloom, and late, to ensure maximum pollination.
“The bees are brought in mid-January,” McPhee said. “There is not much pollen available at that time, but there are some wild grasses and mustards available for the bees to forage on, and they are given supplemental food.” Tauzer leaves his hives in the bee pastures, which bloom from February through April, so the bees can forage for up to two months post pollination.
McPhee pointed out that bees need diversity in their diet, and supplemental diets alone are not enough. Without that diversity, “They can’t build up the strength to fight off diseases and mites,” he said. “Furthermore, bee pastures also help native bees, which are aggressive foragers.
“Once pollen is gone from the almonds, honey bees travel three to four miles to find another source of food, and you don’t know what’s out there. Perhaps other crops are being sprayed, or the bees could pick up diseases. But with the bee habitat at our ranch, they will have an excellent source of food after almonds have finished blooming.”
For Tauzer, Lakeview Ranch is a sort of nursing ground for building up hives. McPhee added that “hives are usually at their weakest in December and January, and Trevor will bring some of the weaker hives, including those that have been re-queened, to my ranch to strengthen them before pollination. After pollination, he may pull some of his stronger hives out and bring some of the weaker hives in from other orchards — perhaps hives he has split.”
Almond grower Jeff McPhee plants PAm Mustard Mix every year in a field next to his almond orchard. The mustards require the least amount of water of seed mixes offered by Project Apis m., and are the best at reseeding themselves.
Protection from Pesticides
To avoid harmful sprays while bees are present, Tauzer never brings bees to the orchard until after preemergence herbicides have been applied in November and December. “These hold up until May or June; and for bloom sprays, we follow the Almond Board’s ‘Honey Bee Best Management Practices for California Almonds,’ such as spraying at night when the bees are in the hives and applying only fungicides,” he noted.
The bee pastures are planted with mustards in the fall, after a couple of rains soften the ground. When they dry down later in the spring, McPhee flail-mows the forage, then disks it in, adding nitrogen and organic matter back into the soil to improve drainage and soil tilth. Then, to the delight of his children and their friends, he plants either pumpkins or sunflowers for a second crop.
McPhee notes that his neighbors have also been planting forage, and he has arranged with Stanislaus County to plant 300 acres of bee habitat around Woodward Reservoir next year, splitting it into two fields, with clover in one field, mustard in the other. “Immediately around the Woodward Reservoir area, there are probably in excess of 10,000 acres of almonds; it would definitely benefit more than one grower to have forage on that property, as well as multiple beekeepers,” he said.
Aerial Seeding Experiment
As if that weren’t enough, McPhee plans to seed clover by air on nearly 600 acres of rock fields at the family’s Willms Ranch in Knights Ferry, 10 miles east of Oakdale. “If we time it just right, with a heavy rain, the clover seed should go into the ground as it is a very small seed,” he explained. “The bees like this open ground because it has tarweed, which blooms in June and July when everything else has died down. If we can get bee habitat to grow there, it will be huge.”
Project Apis m. provides free seed blends — a mustard mix, a clover mix and Lana vetch — for the purpose of creating honey bee habitat. For more information, go to the organization's website.