Each year between January and February, just before almond trees burst into bloom, two-thirds of the nation’s commercial honey bees hives converge in California. The bees are essential because unlike some plants, almond trees are not self-pollinating, so they need some extra help from honey bees to provide the essential link from one blossom to another. Bees also carry pollen between almond varieties to ensure cross pollination and fertilization of the bloom, another essential step that the trees need to begin growing nuts.
A Mutually Beneficial Relationship
It’s not just the almonds that benefit. As the first major blooming crop, almond pollen is very nutritious for bees and provides their first natural source of food each spring.1 Hives usually do well during almond pollination season and routinely leave stronger than when they arrived. In fact, because bees are so strong after almond bloom, beekeepers often split their hives at this time to grow their apiaries.2
It’s not an exaggeration to say that honey bees and almonds depend on each other. Without almonds, honey bees would lose their first natural source of pollen each year and the commercial beekeeping industry, an important economic driver. Just so, without honey bees California’s almond trees would be missing their essential pollinator, vital to setting each year’s crop.
In addition to the partnership between bees and trees, the relationship between almond farmers and their beekeepers often goes back generations, and can be vital each’s economic interest.
In fact, according to a survey of Pacific Northwest beekeepers, almonds account for 59 percent the beekeepers’ total pollination services rentals but bring in more than 80 percent of beekeepers’ gross pollination services income.3 Nationwide, almonds are the source of 45 percent of all pollination service fees according to the USDA.4
So, next time you crunch on almonds, think about the honey bees that made that great snack possible. Click here to download a new infographic about the important partnership between honey bees, beekeepers, and almond farmers.
1Ramesh Sagili. Department of Horticulture. Oregon State University.
2Ferris Jabr. The Mind-Boggling Math of Migratory Beekeeping. Scientific American. Aug. 2013. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/migratory-beekeeping-mind-boggling-math/
3Dewey M. Caron & Ramesh Sagili. Pacific Northwest (PNW) 2014 Beekeeper Pollination Survey. Oregon State University.
4USDA. Fruit and Tree Nuts Outlook: Economic Insight – U.S. Pollination-Services Market, 2014. Table 1. http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/1679173/special-article-september_-pollinator-service-market-4-.pdf