“For a grower, why would I plant cover crops to help bees? How does that help me out?” asks Billy Synk, director of pollination programs at Project Apis m., an organization that helps growers help themselves by helping bees.
He’s speaking to several hundred almond growers in Turlock, California at the Tree & Vine Expo.
His pitch is simple: help bees by planting cover crops with flowers that make sure the bees are in peak health, and they’ll do a better job pollinating almond fields.
“It creates a positive feedback loop,” Synk tells the crowd. “All the hives that get brought to California to pollinate almonds, they are at their hungriest and weakest they will be all year round. The most important job they have all year is just a couple weeks or months away, and that’s almond pollination.”
Bee colony collapse has started improving, Synk tells the crowd, but that doesn’t mean bees are doing great.
“The winter hive losses and summer hive losses are still alarming. There is still a bee health issue,” Synk says. “Colonies have a better chance of winter survival when they have access to adequate forage. That affects how healthy the hive is in the second week of February when they have a very important job, to pollinate almonds.”
2 million colonies in the U.S. come to California in a very short amount of time to pollinate 900,000 acres of almonds, Synk says
Without adequate forage, Synk says, bees have an unbalanced diet in the lead-up to almond bloom, akin to a person living off a diet of candy bars.
Besides keeping bees strong, flowering cover crops send a signal to the hive that is passed along from bee to bee in the language of chemicals.
“If hives are placed in an orchard a couple days, weeks, even a month before the almond bloom, and you planted a cover crop that’s blooming in January, you’re going to have scout bees go and collect pollen and bring it into the hive, and that tells the hive, ‘Hey, it’s spring,’” Synk says.
What cover crops does he recommend? Project Apis m. has a special page set up for almond growers with all the information.
Daikon radishes, clover, and several varieties of mustard are a few of their recommendations. Daikon has an added benefit beyond feeding pollinators--it also has big roots that act to increase organic matter in the soil, which helps hold water.
According to Synk, a 1% increase in organic matter increases the holding capacity of an acre of soil by 19,000 gallons of water.
Beyond just making the recommendation, Project Apis m. also has funding to subsidize seeds for almond growers. The organization provides up to 125 acres worth of seed to each grower for free.
The offer of free seed made Synk a popular speaker, with numerous requests for his contact information at the end of his talk.
Act now to reach out to Project Apis m. if you’d like to participate in the program, as supplies for each growing season are limited. Please direct any questions or feedback regarding the Seeds for Bees program to: firstname.lastname@example.org.