It’s Cold (and Wet) Out There

 

This dead forager was one of the few bees I saw on an almond blossom during the early bloom period. She likely succumbed to hypothermia after spending the night away from the colony (note the damp matted hairs).

I don’t know what the groundhog did or saw this year, but according to the calendar it’s still winter. The first day of spring is still a month away. If you’re a pollinator or grower of almonds, you’re hoping weather conditions up and down the central valley of California become more favorable for flight activity than they have been. I recently returned from 2 weeks of inspecting and sampling colonies where conditions were cold, wet, and windy. These conditions delayed onset and slowed progression of the almond bloom and are forecast to continue. Frequent updates on the progression of bloom and conditions for flight are available from Blue Diamond.

 

The abundance of water and scarcity of flowers in this orchard near Chowchilla, CA characterized the first half of February in most of the central valley.

Muddy conditions prevailed as the last of the colonies were being set.

In addition to the revenue from pollination fees, beekeepers also count on floral resources provided by the 1,000,000+ acres of almond trees that stretch roughly from Chico in the north to Bakersfield in the south. Many colonies get stimulated with feed prior to bloom to boost brood production and size.  If there is not a smooth transition from supplemental feed to forage, because of inclement weather, colony growth can be hindered. If cool and wet conditions persist, many beekeepers may need to resume supplemental feeding to avoid starvation. The persistent wet conditions can also be problematic for growers and lead to increased application of fungicides which may be perilous to bee health.

 

Aside from the biotic implications for the bees, there are also practical difficulties for beekeepers. In the last few days there have been an abundance of photos and videos online of colonies submerged in orchards or swept away by flooding rivers. Some beekeepers have had truckloads of colonies get snowed in on mountain passes into the valley where wintery conditions have closed highways. At the very least, getting in and out of orchards to deliver or work colonies has been a muddy mess. With so much of the national herd sitting in one location, the implications of the current and near future conditions in the region may ripple across the country this season as colonies are dispersed post-pollination.

Written By: Dan Wyns

Dan Wyns has written 20 post in this blog.

I was introduced to honey bees over a decade ago while in New Zealand on a working holiday and have been consumed with caring for and learning about them ever since. Prior to joining BIP I was a commercial beekeeper in New Zealand and western Canada where I was fortunate to gain a diversity of beekeeping experience across a variety of climates and agricultural landscapes. I joined BIP in 2014 as a member of the PNW tech transfer team and spent 3 years working with beekeepers across OR, WA and ID. The addition of a Tech Transfer position in Michigan has allowed me to carry on working with bees and beekeepers while relocating to my home state.  I was born in Grand Rapids, raised in Grand Haven, and studied in Ann Arbor so the opportunity to serve the beekeeping community here is especially satisfying. My family roots run deep in Michigan horticulture and I look forward to continuing that tradition by working to promote colony health and support local agriculture.

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