With this year’s harvest starting to wrap up, the 2020 pollination season is right around the corner. If you don’t have your bees lined up already, it’d be wise to get on that ASAP. If you’ve already got a deal signed, here are some things you can do to make sure it all goes smoothly.
CHECK IN WITH YOUR BEEKEEPER (BUT DON'T BUG THEM)
Just because the weather’s getting cooler and the bees are shutting down for winter, there’s not a lot of downtime for beekeepers in these next few months. They’re busy feeding, treating and shuffling hives from state to state, overseeing a hectic web of logistics to make sure the bees arrive in your orchard in the best shape possible. Consider giving your beekeeper a call every month or so to check in and confirm everything’s still on track. Keep in mind they’re working extra long hours, so if they don’t answer your first call or two, it probably means they’re working the bees. Make sure you’re easily reachable and available to answer when they return your calls at odd hours.
DISCUSS EVERY DETAIL
About a month before the bees are dropped, it’s a good idea to have a longer discussion with your beekeeper to review your plans.
Create contingencies for things that may go wrong. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of opportunities for things to go south. Whether it’s a truck stuck in the mud or an injury to a worker, make sure your beekeeper knows what to do and who to call.
Make delivery as simple as possible. Since most guys work in the dead of night, you should provide maps with locations and number of pallets for each drop. Tie a ribbon on tree branches next to drop locations so there’s no confusion. If you want to go above and beyond, highlight obstacles like idle equipment and low-lying areas prone to flooding on the map.
Make it easy for beekeepers to access hives in the orchard. A good beekeeper will return every week or two to work the hives. Be sure to keep gates unlocked or provide your beekeeper with keys/combos. Make repairs this winter to orchard roads that are in rough shape.
CONSIDER PROVIDING WATER & GROWING COVER CROP
If the 2020 season is anything like 2019, the bees should have plenty of access to water. But if there’s no rain during pollination, it’s a good idea to set out some water basins for the bees. Make sure to place something for bees to land on inside the basins, otherwise they may drown.
Water availability is essential for hives to operate at full capacity. The water doesn’t even need to be particularly clean—it’s been found that bees actually prefer nasty water because of its higher nutrient content. Cover crop has become increasingly popular for almond growers, and the benefits to pollination are supported by research. Project Apis M has an excellent program that provides financial and technical assistance for growers looking to implement a cover crop program. Give them a call and tell Billy we sent you!
Pollination is more than just a job to get done. Putting in extra hours of prep work will lead to less stress and fewer complications when it matters. Your beekeepers will be thankful for your effort.