The 2021 pollination season may seem far off, but it’s never too early to start planning for such a critical point in the season. Even if you’re not ready to sign a contract, here are some questions every grower should ask of their beekeeper. If you think these details aren’t all that important to you, at the very least, this will show your beekeeper that you’ve done your homework.
What size boxes am I getting?
This is a softball question, but asking it shows that you know a thing or two about beekeeping. Even if you don’t know much else beyond this, it’s a good idea to learn the lingo. Hive boxes come in a variety of sizes based on box height (deeps, mediums and shallows) and width (10-frame and 8-frame). The most common hive box configurations are called double deep (two deep boxes) and story and a half (one deep box, one medium or shallow box). You’ll see single deep hives in almonds sometimes, but these should only be used to pollinate younger trees or self-fertile varieties.
Double deep, story and a half, and single deep hive configurations
The major difference between box sizes is how much room the colony has to grow. More bees can fit inside a 10-frame than an 8-frame hive. More bees can fit in a double deep than a story and a half hive. Ultimately, as long as you don’t get single story hives, box size doesn’t matter all that much for almond pollination. No matter the box size, it would be unlikely for it to be packed to the brim when bloom hits. Pre-bloom, you could easily have a stronger colony in an 8-frame story and a half than a 10-frame double deep.
How should we configure hive drops?
There many parts to this answer, and a well-prepared grower should already have some of the answers on hand. Your job as a grower should be to make it easy to drop hives. That means providing orchard maps tagged with locations and number of pallets per drop, physically marking drop locations by tying ribbons on branches, and doing your best to make orchard roads passable. If a location is prone to flooding, set up stilts or offer a plan B drop location. If there’s a major bump or a narrow bridge, make sure they’re clearly marked on the map.
How can I make it easier on you to work your bees?
The easier it is to access the hives, the more hives your beekeeper can cover in a day. Unless an orchard is along a busy road and your beekeeper is worried about theft, try not to locate hive drops between rows of trees. For beekeepers and their workers, spotting hives between mature tree branches can be a challenge. Time spent searching for drops is time not spent working bees. Drops along orchard perimeters or widened middle roads are almost always easiest to access.
Hives dropped between rows are also frustrating to work. Low branches make it awkward to open lids and get a good look inside. Often you’re forced to walk several times around trees to work all the hives on a single pallet. Again, try to avoid locations that will cause your beekeeper to work slower.
Asking this might also serve as a reminder to your beekeeper that you expect them to be out there working the bees. You’d be surprised how many times we’ve come across hives in late February that clearly haven’t been opened for weeks. The best beekeepers make a few rounds to feed the bees before bloom.
This should serve as a starting point in a long list of pollination prep questions you should go over with your beekeeper. Along with getting on the same page with expectations, the key here is showing your beekeeper that you want to help them do their best work.