Why Honey Bees Are "Nuts" about Cover Crops

Almond Tree with White Blooms

Mike Silveira isn’t your average almond grower. A first-generation farmer, Silveira started his agricultural career as a traveling fertilizer salesman before settling down in Hughson, California, where he launched his career in the almond industry 10 years ago.

What makes Silveira’s operation unique among the hundreds of almond orchards in the region is his commitment to planting cover crops to cultivate stronger and healthier bees.

 “I have always been a grower who thinks outside of the box and wants to do things a little bit differently,” Silveira said. “When I saw that Project Apis m. was looking for growers who were interested in planting cover crops for the Seeds for Bees program, I made a phone call. I got the seeds planted and it took off from there.”

About Project Apis m.

Project Apis m. is a California-based nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing the health and vitality of honey bee colonies while simultaneously helping growers improve crop production. In 2014, Project Apis m. launched theSeeds for Bees” Forage Project that provides free seed mixes to almond growers.

By supplementing honey bee colonies with diverse and nutritional forage prior to and after almond bloom, the new crops will nurture a stronger and healthier population of bees for almond farms. Working with Bayer’s Western Field Technology Station in Fresno, Project Apis m. continuously optimizes the seed mixes based on research conducted at the facility, incorporating the best drought-resistant and pollinator-attractant plants.

Cover crops in in California almond orchards
Cover crops in California almond orchards

Where Silveira Comes In

Now, as a co-owner of B&S Orchards, Silveira is excited to share his cover crop growing experience with other almond growers so they can help protect the pollinators in the area.

According to Silveira, the almond industry has always used bees for pollination, and growers dedicate large portions of their budgets to buying bees. During almond bloom, each grower may spend upward of $300 per acre on pollination services alone. The bees will typically be in the almond fields for three weeks to a month before they move on to pollinate cherries and other crops in the area.

“Without commercial bees, we are never going to be able to sustain our almond crops,” Silveira said. “And if we don’t help these beekeepers to nurture viable, healthy bees, we are never going to have the yields that we currently are seeing.”

How Cover Crops Are Helping

Planting cover crops is one of the best ways to help the bees in the field. Over the past three years, Silveira has planted different seed mixes in alternating rows, helping to ensure that commercial honey bees and wild bees always have blooming sources around the field, no matter the time of year.

In addition to helping maintain healthier bees, the cover crops have helped Silveira cultivate stronger relationships with his beekeepers.

“I have a pretty good relationship with my beekeeper,” Silveira said. “He likes the idea that I plant a cover crop in my tree rows because it helps him build stronger brood. His bees are very strong because they have been fed very well by the forage that I have planted.”

Additionally, planting cover crops isn’t just helpful for pollinators. Growers also reap benefits. Preventing soil erosion, nitrogen fixation and feeding the microbes in the soil are a few positive outcomes that Silveira has witnessed firsthand.

Next Steps

Silveira encourages other growers to research and learn more about cover crop planting and consider joining programs such as Seeds for Bees to get started.

“I have turned a few people on to the program,” Silveira said. “I haven’t seen any negative impact of it. I only see the positive of providing a food source.”

Looking over his 100-acre almond field, Silveira is confident that with more farmers and growers taking steps to help these hardworking insects, beekeepers will continue bringing their colonies to California to play their vital role in the industry. Almond lovers can breathe a sigh of relief!