Why do they have honey bee hives at the end of each row in almond orchards and where do they come from?

Why do they have honey bee hives at the end of each row in almond orchards and where do they come from?


As were cruising along through orchard country on one of our trips, we noticed another curious thing (at least we thought so 😉).  At the end of nearly every row in many orchards were beehives. Not having seen copious quantities of almond honey at local grocery stores it didn’t seem that this was part of a naturally synergistic commercial enterprise in honey and almonds. Though I have to say, honey-roasted almonds are a mighty tasty treat in my opinion. Since this is my blog, I do say so.  But I digress.  To answer these puzzling questions my friend Google and I got to work.

As to the first question the practice of placing honey bee hives at the end of each row came about as a result of poor environmental decision making and massive expansion in the almond growing industry. 

On the environmental side, there are two primary issues.  One is pesticides that killed off a significant portion of the bee population and continues to be a danger to them. The second has to do with feeding all those hungry little bees. At some point, someone thought it a good idea to dig up all the “weeds” in between rows making everything look nice and neat and easy to harvest by machine.  There was one small problem with this. Fruit and nut bearing trees require pollination to bear their fruits and nuts.  Who does the pollinating? Why bees do of course.  So far so good, right? Uuuummm… no.  You see bees can’t survive on pollinating almond trees alone.  That only happens for a few weeks in February.  The rest of the year bees need other food sources like wildflowers, clover, alfalfa and other pollen and nectar producers. The nice, neat and easy to mechanically harvest orchards are decidedly lacking here.  Once the almond trees finish blooming Northern California becomes a food desert for bees.  

Compounding this problem is the massive expansion of almond orchards in NorCal.  Almond orchards need lots and lots of bees, 2-3 hives per acre to be specific.  This is far more than the environment around them can support.  Enter commercial bee keepers.  The demand for bees to pollinate almond orchards is so great that nearly all the bees in the country make an annual trip in February to the almond orchards of Northern California.  Beekeepers make far more leasing their bees to orchards to pollinate trees than they do from honey.   This answers the second question.

Incidentally, this answered another long standing question for me from several years back.  I was on I-80 headed to Reno and got stuck in a 4 hour traffic jam caused by an overturned tractor trailer hauling beehives. I was baffled by the notion of a tractor trailer full of bee hives not to mention extremely grateful for tight seals around the windows in my car. 😉 I pity the first responders on scene to that accident! Yikes!

So there you have it folks – why they have honey bee hives at the end of each row in almond orchards and where they come from. 😊


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