Beekeeping can be an extremely difficult pursuit. Many of you are asking, “Why take your bees to California for almond pollination?” This is an extremely simple and great question; the answer is much more complicated. We would like to go back to the days of old where a beekeeper could survive on just selling honey, helping new beekeepers, and selling bath and body products; it’d be a lot less stressful. Modern beekeeping requires us to find other revenue sources in order to keep operating and stay in business. That’s the problem for most beekeepers, they put most everything back in the business and hope they’ll be here next year.
In recent years, American beekeepers have been finding it increasingly difficult to compete against cheaper honey from China https://www.wideopeneats.com/honey-laundering/. Though many people love the taste of local honey many are unwilling to pay the price it would cost for a beekeeper to be self-sustaining. Most commercial apiaries take a loss on their honey every year. It has become a necessary byproduct of beekeeping you have to deal with. As a result, most beekeepers have turned to crop pollination — especially the almond season — to make ends meet. Almond pollination sustains 80% of the commercial beekeepers nationwide. Without almond pollination, local honey could easily reach $40 to $50 dollars per pound or just disappear altogether.
It was so disheartening to have people complain about the cost of local honey when doing farmers’ markets last year. I had one person visit our booth who said, “thank you so much for all you do for the bees”. I told her she could help by making a purchase which is how we fund our apiary. She was outraged that I would say such a thing…needless to say, she did not make a purchase.
Looking deeper at what almond pollination accomplishes one will find that either many of your other fruits and vegetables would be significantly more expensive or they could be almost impossible to obtain. Because farmers of other produce such as tree fruit (apples, citrus, pears, cherries…), vegetable seeds (carrot, cabbage, pumpkin, squash…), and berries (black, blue, raspberry…) are completely unaccustomed to paying prices that truly reflect the cost to the beekeeper to put their bees in the farmer’s fields and orchards.
We made the decision to take our hives to California for a couple of different reasons. One was to get them out of the wet cold Washington weather for 3 months, second was to give them a head start on building up strength for the coming year and third to make some much-needed income doing 1 and 2. We also came up with a plan to insure their health and well-being.
We chose a bee broker who is also a beekeeper in Madera California, and our bees are on his private property where no pesticides are used. We tend to them approximately every 2 weeks to make certain our bees are doing well. Many commercial beekeepers load them up on a truck a few weeks before almond pollination season and say goodbye to their bees for a month or so and then wonder why they aren’t thriving when they return mid-March to the beginning of April.
When the almonds bloom our bees will be placed in the orchard, in the same place our broker puts their bees. No pesticides are used during this time. When the almond pollination season is over, we will bring our bees back home ourselves. We love our bees and we just could not follow the model other commercial migratory beekeepers follow.
Honeybees are considered livestock. Without their human keepers, honeybees face extinction. In 2015 President Barack Obama established a task force to promote the health of honeybees https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/pollinator-protection/federal-pollinator-health-task-force-epas-role_.html . The report called upon the Department of Agriculture to track honeybee colony loss and to restore millions of acres of land to pollinator habitat. The USDA was one of the co-leaders of this task force that developed the national strategy lining out research and a management roadmap.
The USDA’s Agricultural Research Service https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/06/20/being-serious-about-saving-bees is conducting research to improve the nutritional health of bees, to control the Varroa mite and other pests and pathogens, and to understand the effects of pesticides on colonies. They are setting up long-term studies to determine causes and evaluate treatments for Colony Collapse Disorder, other causes of bee mortality, and are establishing a bee gene bank to help breed traits such as resistance to pests or diseases and pollination efficiency.
In addition to colony collapse, climate-intensified change has destroyed entire apiaries. Floods drown blooms leading to the starvation of billions of bees, wildfires burn habitat as well as hives. Besides keeping their bees alive, beekeepers also worry about them being stolen or vandalized by humans. https://allthatsinteresting.com/bee-slaughter-texas If that is not enough, there are invasive species such as the Giant Asian Hornet that can decimate a hive of 60,000 honeybees in 30 minutes. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/23/us/asian-giant-hornet-washington-state-scn-trnd/index.html
We work hard to nurture our honeybees and our community alike. We use products from our hives to create soaps, shampoos, lip balms, lotions, bath bombs, and beeswax candles. Plus, we sell local honey that is not only delicious, but it may also be produced by bees that visited the plants in your own backyard! Your purchases plus pollination help us keep our apiary going, for this we are grateful.
If you are interested in owning a hive or two of your own, we can help. Visit our website www.goobees.farm to order yours today. To all of you who supported our efforts in 2019, we thank you! We look forward to what 2020 will bring. Beekeeping is very rewarding and worthwhile.