Bees take flight to pollinate almond crop

Bees take flight to pollinate almond crop

Alexis Harvey, manager of Dixon Bee Co. in Solano County, checks on honeybees placed in an area almond orchard in time for bloom. It takes 2.5 million beehives from California and out of state to pollinate the state’s 1.37 million bearing almond acres, according to the Almond Board of California.

Photo/Christine Souza

Bees take flight to pollinate almond crop
Pollination efforts are boosted by plantings of cover crops, such as peas and vetch, in this Dixon almond orchard. Cover crops can increase the diversity of forage for pollinating honeybees and improve soil health. 
iPhoto/Christine Souza


Beekeeper Alexis Harvey says pollination efforts are boosted by plantings of cover crops, such as peas and vetch, in the Dixon almond orchard where she was working. Cover crops can increase the diversity of forage for pollinating honeybees and improve soil health.
Photo/Christine Souza


By Christine Souza


Dealing with a mix of extreme weather during bloom, California growers and beekeepers are hopeful that Mother Nature provides plenty of sunny days so honeybees can leave their colonies and pollinate the 2024 almond crop.

“We are just hoping for more flight hours and that we don’t get a cold spell, so these nuts stay intact for this year’s crop,” said Dixon Bee Co. manager Alexis Harvey, whose family farms 40 acres of almonds in Solano County.

“Everybody has been able to get into the orchards, even though it’s been a little messy,” he added. “We’ve had to keep pushing between the storms, but as long as we can get the weather, we should be good.”

Harvey, whose honeybee colonies are placed in orchards from Woodland to Stockton, said the 10-year family business rents bees to growers and is a bee broker, relying on colonies from out of state to help supply almond pollination needs.

Pollination of the state’s 1.37 million bearing acres of almonds requires 2.5 million beehives provided by California and out-of-state beekeepers, according to the Almond Board of California.

To place beehives into orchards in time for the start of bloom in mid-February, Sutter County beekeeper Philip Russell of Strachan Apiaries Inc. said beekeepers began transporting bees into staging areas in early January. Since then, he said, “we’ve been going six days a week.”

Heavy rainfall in early February caused headaches for some beekeepers who had trouble accessing muddy orchards and dealt with stuck equipment when moving bees. The warm weather that followed accelerated bud development, which meant bees had to be in orchards to take advantage of sunny temperatures.

Bees fly best, Russell said, when temperatures exceed 55 degrees.

“The bees will be there to fly to the blooms as long as the weather permits. Cold weather makes it hard for bees to get out and feed, and it makes it hard for beekeepers to get out and take care of the bees,” said Russell, president of the California State Beekeepers Association. “When it’s raining and they don’t fly, it’s not good for the farmer, but with any sunny days in between, they’ll be fine.”

Russell said he anticipates bloom to end by mid-March, which gives honeybees up to five weeks to pollinate the crop.

With warm temperatures in late 2023, Russell said, bees kept flying, but there weren’t flowers for them to visit. Expenses for beekeepers rose as they fed bees supplemental pollen. “With no flowers to go to, the bees just spend energy and get weaker and weaker because there’s no pollen,” he said.

Beekeepers also paid more for fuel, transportation and labor.

“When I have more than 25 people, I can’t work people more than eight hours without paying overtime,” Russell said. “The big killer is having to pay time-and-a-half, so it gets really expensive.”

Stanislaus County farmer Christine Gemperle, who farms almonds in Ceres and serves as a board member of the almond board, said warm weather in mid-February triggered the onset of bloom in her orchards. That means wet weather is a concern.

“If we get colder temperatures and rain, and the bees aren’t flying as much as they would like, there’s certainly big potential for some issues,” she said.

Beekeepers say they’re confident the supply of bee colonies will be enough to pollinate almonds this year. However, colony thefts happen every year, and this year is no exception.

From early January to mid-February, beekeepers reported to law enforcement 10 separate thefts of about 1,000 bee colonies, according to the California State Beekeepers Association. Most of the thefts occurred in the Central Valley near Fresno.

Butte County Sheriff’s Office investigator Rowdy Jay Freeman, past president of the California Rural Crime Prevention Task Force and a beekeeper, said a break in the cases of stolen beehives came Feb. 12, when Madera County Sheriff’s Office detectives located stolen bees and equipment from six separate hive thefts at a local residence. The suspects were not located at the scene.

“Evidence has been located that indicates the suspect or suspects have been altering the stolen boxes before painting over them, and then applying their own business names with stencils,” Freeman said in a report. He said investigators believe the suspect is placing hives in orchards near Atwater.

The cost to the grower to rent beehives for almond pollination this year ranges from $180 for a six-frame hive of bees to $200 or more for an eight-frame hive. With the almond sector placing more emphasis on ensuring growers get what they pay for in hive strength, Gemperle said, “this helps to establish a better relationship with your beekeeper.”

Beekeepers’ biggest challenge remains the bee parasite Varroa mite, which affects the brood and vectors viruses. “We’re always fighting mites,” said Harvey, who also works as a pest control advisor and certified crop advisor for Grow West in Woodland.

“Having insight into how the chemicals work and how they’re going to affect the bees is super important,” Harvey added. “We always talk about stewardship and rotating our modes of action so we don’t overdo it because we don’t want to lose the tools that we have.”

In time for bloom, many growers plant cover crops to increase the amount and diversity of forage in the orchard for bees and to improve soil health. Cover crops in the Dixon orchard where Harvey placed bees include peas and vetch. She said of the bees, “They are going to love it out here this year.”

The California State Beekeepers Association offers a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone who has stolen or vandalized beehives belonging to a member of the association. Contact the association at Report rural crimes by contacting the county sheriff’s office.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at

Permission for use is granted. However, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation