California-Bound Honeybees

My first two bee colonies arriving at my Missouri apiary.

My first two bee colonies arriving at my Missouri apiary.

California-Bound Honeybees

The first winter after I started keeping bees, I received a call from someone who asked if I wanted to move my bees to California to pollinate almond fields.

I was new to keeping bees but the offer was intriguing. It had never occurred to me how almonds got pollinated, let alone that bees, some years as many as 3/4ths of all bee colonies from around the country, moved to California for a few short weeks to pollinate the thousands of almond trees. 

One of the articles I read said last year, there would have been a shortage of bees to pollinate the almonds had it not been for the California drought. 

How much would they pay me per hive, I had asked the caller. It was an impressive amount, although at the time I was not comfortable even with the thought of letting Gertrude and Mildred, my hives named after my Mom and Grandmother, even out of my sight.

This was 2011, several years before small hive beetles were found in hives in the Missouri county where we live. Wax worms and the related pests and viruses associated with varroa were the main threats, although I had not yet met the little red vampire-like mites.

The caller asked if my hives had been moved to other fields. Many beekeepers, he said, moved their hives to provide pollination services. I assured him my girls had only been pollinating my garden and had been under my watchful eye the whole time they had been with me.

When he asked how many hives I had, I confessed, only two. But if they were going out west, I said, I was going with them. First class.

He laughed. He had found me through my blog about beekeeping and was trying to find beekeepers to get more bees out west.

I said I appreciated the offer but I wasn't particularly fond of almonds. I thought it was best that we should stay in the midwest for now. 

Since then, there have been online discussions about the impact of moving bees around the country half a year. After pollinating almonds, bees move to Texas to pollinate apples and peaches, then out east to pollinate blueberries and cranberries.

Exposure to new diseases, changing weather conditions and increased stress on the colonies have been among the factors cited for cutting down, if not stopping, the practice of moving bees long distance for pollination. Not to mention what less pollination would do to the lucrative commercial almond market.

Maybe it's time to mediate our almond consumption and appreciate the local nuts we can grow. After all, bees can pollinate those, not have to travel as far and it minimizes their exposure to stress and diseases.