In our work with almond growers in Stanislaus and Merced Counties, we’ve met several almond growers who are attempting to raise bees in order to decrease the money they spend on hive rental, which can be between $150-200 per hive, and two hives are recommended per acre of almonds. Even for a small orchard of 10 acres, that could end up costing a grower $4,000. However, as this picture shows, many bee keepers in this area lose many bees, and sometimes entire hives, either due to pesticide poisoning or colony collapse disorder, or combinations of these. In order to support a more diverse habitat, we’ve been working with growers to plant pollinator hedgerows which include many native perennials. These hedgerows are designed to have blooms all season long, and also to specifically have blooms during the winter months, when nectar and pollen sources in this area are hard to find. These hedgerows may also provide refuge and habitat for ground-nesting native bees, depending on the ground cover used for weed control.
NCAT staff have been working with Roberto Perez over the last three years under two different USDA Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program (BFRDP) projects to increase beneficial habitat for bees in almonds that he manages. Under the first BFRDP project, NCAT provided native perennials to plant next to his own almond orchard as a “practice hedgerow.”
Roberto liked what he saw and found a location to plant a 400-foot long triple hedgerow next to an almond orchard he manages. NCAT worked with Roberto and Cornflower Nursery of Elk Grove over a period of a year to identify species and numbers of plants that Roberto ultimately purchased and planted in late May of 2015. Native bees and honey bees are already coming to these young hedgerow plants, and they should soon really “bee” buzzing!
The native bees also provide almonds with a set of back-up pollinators. Many native bees are much more efficient pollinators than honey bees, but the native bees can’t be moved around in hives like honey bees. Native bees are willing to work in cooler and more inclement weather than honey bees like, so that is an additional “pollination insurance policy” for almond growers.