From the Fields® - March 16, 2011

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By Valeri Severson, Yuba County beekeeper

Our bees are doing pretty well. Right now most of them are still in almond orchards. The bloom has been late this year, so we are not able to move them out yet. And the cold weather seems to have had a major impact on them. But we have started to move a few hives out of the almonds into prunes.

We've started our queen bee production, like many Northern California beekeepers. This is the big time for queen bee production. As a result, our labor force is increasing. Our fuel consumption is increasing, which is not good because fuel prices have gone up so much.

We also have packages that we sell. Packaged bees are two to four pounds of bees and a queen. We sell those to other beekeepers and honey producers. They are usually in other states where they do not overwinter the bees, or they don't raise their own bees like we do in Northern California. Some of the Southern states like Texas, Georgia and Florida also do queen production. But, they don't do as much as we do in Northern California.

After prunes we take the hives to permanent bee locations for the summer. We have a few little seed crops we do, but there aren't too many. We have a lot of foothill locations for our beehives. I also send a couple thousand beehives to North Dakota for honey production. There are several beekeepers that send their hives to other states for the summer to produce honey, usually either North Dakota, South Dakota or Montana.

We have not had problems with colony collapse disorder this year. I don't know if we are just lucky or if it's management or what the reason, but we just haven't had it near us. I was talking with another beekeeper that has had major problems with CCD the last two years. This year his bees are better because of some things he is trying to do differently with his hives. There is a United Nations report on the pollinator decline. It is not just about bees, but includes other species that are pollinators, but especially honeybees. It shows that the collapse of pollinators has become a worldwide problem. It calls the situation a global collapse disorder which threatens biodiversity.

When you read a study like that and then see how much money beekeepers are pouring into saving their hives and still the results are poor, it is discouraging and a lot of beekeepers have just given up. The only thing that is keeping them going is the decent prices for almond pollination. If we didn't have that, I know a lot of people would quit.

By Ron Macedo, Stanislaus County diversified farmer

We are just finishing up some bloom spray in the almonds. This was our third go-around with fungicides because of the frequent rain events. We are also doing some fertilizer application work on late-season oats and some pre-plant applications on row crops such as sweet potatoes.

Almond growers in this area are optimistic that we had sufficient bee flight hours for pollination. I think there are still a lot of questions out there concerning how much cold weather will affect things, but the bloom was strong. Everything looks good and that's why we are cautiously optimistic that we should set a good almond crop.

The water situation in my area is probably better than anywhere in the state; we are in great shape here. Overall, farming was pretty good in 2010 in our area. Late-season rains caused a few challenges, but we were able to get all the crops in.

All-in-all, everything is good and we are optimistic that 2011 will be good as well. There are a lot of options to raise different crops this year, so that is a good thing. But the high fuel prices are putting a damper on things, particularly for the dairies, which are also facing high feed costs.

By Frost Pauli, Mendocino County winegrape grower

Things are going well on the North Coast. It has been raining and cool. We are waiting now for frost season to come along and we are preparing for that. We are getting the last of the grapes pruned. Most people are finished, but a few are still pruning. Pears are about three to four weeks away from full bloom. The good news is it is raining and wet, the snowpack is above average and hopefully we are going to have a good wet spring and we won't have to deal with frost issues like we had in past years.

On this part of the North Coast, bud break is about a month away. Some of the early varieties may puff out a bit, but really the bud break is a month away. Pears are starting to bud out, but full bloom is still a month off. Pears aren't vulnerable so much to rain; one of the main problems we face with pears is hail. We have been very fortunate we haven't gotten much hail. We had a little about a week ago in some of the inland valleys, but I haven't heard of any damage because the buds are still closed up. Once the buds start to open up and get closer to bloom, then the hail really becomes a problem.

Because of the good weather we had in January and February, we were able to get a lot of things done early. We got a lot of our strip spraying done early during the good weather, and normally we would just be getting started on those chores. But, this has led to us being behind on our shop work. Now, with the wet weather, we are trying to get caught up on some of the shop work that normally would be done in January.

We are preparing for frost season. We are making sure our wind machines are tuned up and ready to go. We are making sure our off-stream storage ponds are filled up. It won't be long and we'll have to start going out at night and turning on wind machines and pumps.

We are happy to have the colder wet weather right now because that pushes everything back and makes for a shorter frost season. Late bud break can make a difference at harvest time. It doesn't seem to have too much of an impact. It really depends on how the rest of the summer goes. The crop can catch up pretty quickly, especially with grapes.

By Joe Colace Jr., Imperial Valley diversified farmer

We lost some of our early sweet corn. The Imperial Valley suffered what I would call moderately significant damage on the first third of the sweet corn crop. When that freeze hit in early February, some of the corn was vulnerable. Many of the growers begin germination in December, but we had more height on that spring sweet corn crop in the Imperial Valley.

We also grow citrus in the Imperial Valley and that has gone well. Basically, all the citrus grows in the warmer areas. It's in what we call the outer edges. It is mostly on the east side of the valley, which is a warm area. Cauliflower and broccoli are also doing well. There have been some very high markets for those vegetables, but at the start the prices were very low.

We have lots of spring melons in the ground. I would say we are also a little late there. The crop has been slow to progress, but the crop looks promising. It did not suffer the damage that the corn did. That is because the melon crop was planted later and is in a different location. We have corn right next to the melons, and that corn did fine.

We are hoping our early melon crop draws a good price. We compete with the off-shore melons in our early market. We'll know how it does in a couple months. We think our melon crop will start about May 8. The flavor of melons is better when they are grown in drier conditions. The melons don't respond well to higher humidity.

We market asparagus, but do not grow any. We market asparagus out of Mexico and the San Joaquin Valley. California growers are harvesting now. The early varieties have started. The Imperial Valley could not compete with the cost of production out of Mexico. That's why we stopped growing asparagus. We were in the asparagus business for 15 years, but shut that down because we couldn't compete.