First Friday of the month at 5p.m.
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Our annual Great Central Valley “Bee-in” is underway. This “Gathering of the Tribes”, some 24 billion Apis mellifera from all North America, won’t be lounging about in Golden Gate Park. Worker bee legions are here to pollinate the vastness of California almonds, now approaching one million acres. With each orchard acre displaying up to 10 million attractive, pollen-laden blooms, Apis visitors will indeed be characteristically busy. However, a monotonous almond blossom diet does not a healthy bee make, any more than we humans thrive on bread alone. It’s increasingly clear that current average 30% overwinter colony losses, double what was considered normal just a few years back, derives in significant part from diminished bee pasture, natural environments where floral diversity provides foraging Apis a broad range of immune-boosting nutrients. California’s drought-stricken native ecosystems languished while rich grasslands in the nation’s midsection were plowed for high-priced corn and soy crops. Artificial fast-food supplements that apiarists substitute for nature’s nutrients just don’t cut it. In fall 2012, a handful of progressive almond farmers addressed honeybee nutrition by seeding, in aggregate, several hundred acres of flowering cover crop within and around margins of various orchards. Last fall, 150 almond grower participants sowed 3,000 acres of drought tolerant mustard, clover and vetch mixes, provided free by Project Apis m.’s ‘Seeds for Bees’ Forage Project, to create a blooming diversity for bees before and after this almond pollination season. Recent bee shortages and skyrocketing hive rental fees drove some orchardists to try their hands at apiculture. Most abandoned such notions after experiencing amounts of time and effort involved. However, pathbreaker Stuart Resnick’s Paramount Farming just announced acquisition of 20,000 hive-strong Headwaters Farm, reputedly amongst the nation’s largest beekeeping operations. World’s largest tree crop player Paramount’s 125,000 nut acres afforded the economic clout to integrate industrial bee management and to lure highly regarded entomologist Dr. Gordon Wardell into a Senior Bee Biologist post several years ago. Above developments, amongst others, evidence cooperation between apiarist and almond growing communities that was mostly absent before bees fell on hard times and nuts created California’s new “Gold Mountain”. Forecasting 2015’s pollination season, Wardell favorably assessed colony strength amongst the nation’s major beekeeping regions last September, except hives confined to droughty California. Emphasizing critical over- winter colony management, this bee doctor deferred to an old English proverb: “many a slip twixt the cup and the lip”. –Tom Willey
Project Apis m.: projectapism.org/