Warm, dry weather aids California almond bloom

RED BLUFF, Calif. -- Lingering warm and dry weather has aided a vibrant almond blossom in California despite initial concerns about a shortage of honeybees.

The bloom of early almond varieties started in mid-February, and growers have been reporting plentiful bee activity, industry and university experts say.

"When you have this kind of weather, you don't need as many bees," said Dave Baker, director of member relations for Blue Diamond Growers. "But the bottom line is from the growers I've talked to, we don't have anybody who's been shorted on hives ... I've been in all kinds of orchards and you don't want to be near the hives because they're just boiling."

The same is true in almond orchards in the northern Sacramento Valley, said Rick Buchner, a University of California Cooperative Extension farm advisor here.

"It looks good right now," Buchner said. "The bees are out working like crazy. It's going to be warm and dry over the next 10 days, so it should be about perfect for almond set."

The vibrant blossom comes even though the Golden State only had about 500,000 colonies available as of mid-February to pollinate this year's crop of 800,000 acres, according to University of California-Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen. As many as 1.6 million are needed to provide two colonies per acre.

Almond trees are among the first in the Central Valley to bloom in the spring, with plum trees following shortly afterward and walnut blossoms coming later.

The favorable weather for bee activity has been one benefit from a dry spell that has lingered in much of the state since January, putting precipitation totals behind their seasonal averages. Many fruit and nut orchards were irrigated last month because of a lack of significant rain, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service reported.

After a wet start to the winter season, the state's reservoirs are still at their normal levels for this time of year, but the water content in snowpack is about two-thirds of normal, according to the state Department of Water Resources' California Data Exchange Center.

Some valley showers and low snow levels were expected this week, but long-range forecasts envision a mostly warm and dry March in most areas of the state. The federal Climate Prediction Center shows below-average chances of precipitation throughout the West this month.

 Read article