The national organization dedicated to bee research, Project Apis m., has developed best management practices to help growers and beekeepers achieve a successful pollination season.
Here’s a summary of the six most important best management practices identified by Project Apis m.
1. Have a contract
A signed contract helps both parties agree on services, number of frames of bees, including an average and minimum frame count, terms of payment, and such. A contract template can be accessed at www.ProjectApism.org under the BMP tab.
2. Evaluate colony strength
Check colony strength when the bees arrive in the orchard. Eight to ten frames per colony are optimum. A third party can perform the inspection to determine if contractual obligations have been met. Consider notifying your beekeeper so he or she can observe the inspection and help handle the hives.
3. Hive placement
Place hives in locations with appropriate buffers between pesticide-treated areas and colonies. Distribution of colonies should be accessible and convenient at all hours (beekeepers need access to service their hives). Orchard roads should be maintained for easy access. Generally, one to two hives per acre are needed for apples, two to four per acre for pears, and two to five per acre for cherries. Eastern and southern exposures for hive entrances keep the bees warmer. Avoid shady areas or those prone to flooding. Be on the alert for hive theft and report any suspicious behavior.
Walk your orchard daily during bee flight hours to make sure you see activity. Record those hives that are weak or inactive and tell your beekeeper. Allow the beekeeper time to provide additional colonies if needed.
Help your beekeeper locate flowering forage prior to and after bloom to offset a dearth of flowers. Some almond growers in California are seeding acres of mustards, clovers, and vetch as cover crops to help build healthy bee populations. Bees need water to prevent dehydration. Provide abundant and potable water, placing screens or landings over containers to prevent bees from drowning.
6. Agricultural sprays
Work closely with your beekeeper, letting him or her know about sprays used. Avoid tank mixing, as mixtures may have a synergistic, toxic effect on bees. Avoid prophylactic pesticides, including fungicides, while bees are present. Minimize contact of pesticides and bees by taking the following precautions:
—Don’t spray when bees are flying. Time applications late in the afternoon or at night.
—Don’t spray on warm evenings when bees are clustered outside hives.
—Don’t spray when trees are producing pollen.
—Avoid spraying on windy days because drift can reach hives.
Information is adapted from an article by Christi Heintz and Meg Ribotto in the November-December 2013 issue of Almond Facts, a publication of Blue Diamond Growers. •
Learn more about Project Apis m. by visiting projectapism.org.