Blooming Pastures Provide Appetizers and Dessert for Busy Honey Bees

Posted February 27th, 2017

Given that each almond you eat is the result of pollination by a honey bee, there’s no doubt of their importance to the California almond industry. With continuing concerns about honey bee health, almond farmers are doing more than ever to make their orchards a good and safe place for pollinators.

One innovative new practice is the cultivation of blooming pastures. Whether it is along field margins, between tree rows, or in adjacent empty fields, almond farmers plant these during fall to provide honey bees with supplemental nutrition the following spring – specifically before and after almond bloom.

Almond pollen is honey bees’ first natural source of food each year but often bee hives are delivered in advance and can stay in the orchards beyond bloom due to transportation logistics. Traditionally fed during this time by pollen patties beekeepers place in their hives, bees near orchards with blooming pastures get a special treat. If almond blossoms are the main course, these additional blooming plants provide bees with a nice appetizer and sweet dessert, bookending their time in almonds.  

Award Winning Non-Profit

Founded by former Almond Board research director Christi Heintz, Project Apis m. (PAm) is a non-profit devoted to advancing honey bee health through scientific research. Named for Apis mellifera, the scientific name for the European honey bee, PAm’s Seeds for Bees program provides almond growers with seeds for bee pastures and hedgerows.

With growing adoption of this practice and the success of their program, PAm was recognized recently with an Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Award from the California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR).

DPR’s IPM awards are given annually for those who promote the management of pests using fewer pesticides, and planting blooming pastures can do just that. The same plants which provide pollen and nectar for honey bees can also provide habitat to beneficial insects that prey on harmful pests inside growers’ orchards.

Industry Workshops + Resources

With benefits for both bees and farmers, the Almond Board has recently expanded their Honey Bee Best Management Practices to include information on planting blooming pastures. The new publication provides guidance on what orchard situations are best suited for plantings, water requirements, competition with almond blooms and more.

To give farmers a first-hand look at plantings like this throughout the state, the California Almond Sustainability Program held educational workshops last month in orchards in Woodland, Livingston and Fresno. The nearly 100 total attendees heard from the almond farmers who have planted these pastures in their orchards as well as Almond Board staff who shared available resources.

Farm manager Ralf Sauter speaks to workshop attendees about the bee pastures at Okuye Farms in Livingston.
Planted between the orchard rows, they include mustard and daikon radish.

By continuing to innovate orchard practices, funding research and partnering with organizations for better bee health, the California almond community remains committed to supporting our most important pollinator – the humble honey bee.