Brassica, a kind of mustard seed, provides good fall and winter nutritional value for honey bees pollinating California’s almond blossoms.
Through the Feed a Bee initiative, collaborations are in place to improve forage for honey bees, tiny insects with a big job pollinating many of the nutritious foods that we eat every day. None of those collaborations is more important than the one where Bayer is partnering with Project Apis m., the largest nonprofit, nongovernmental research organization in the United States helping the honey bee, Apis mellifera.
Perhaps you are aware of the essential role the honey bee plays in the production of one of our favorite snacks – almonds. But did you know that it takes about 1.7 million of these hardworking insects to pollinate 860,000 acres of almonds in California each year?
Almonds are the earliest crop to bloom in California, and they also require the most honey bees. When the bees arrive in the fall to escape their native cold regions and to be ready for February’s almond pollination, not much is blooming and food sources for honey bees are scarce.
In 2015, Bayer provided $100,000 to Project Apis m. to help provide food for bees used for commercial pollination services both before and after almond bloom. Project Apis m.’s Seeds for Bees project provides forage for bees when their options are extremely limited, enlisting growers as participants in the program. Once growers are on board, they receive seed mixes to plant in open areas of their orchards, such as along fence rows, as cover crops between rows, and along access rows or waterways.
The program is being extended into Washington state, where honey bees travel after almond bloom to pollinate apples, cherries and other crops.
Bees require access to pollen and nectar from a wide variety of wildflowers and other plants to really be healthy. Can you imagine only eating one type of food for months at a time? Not only would it be boring, but we wouldn’t have many of the essential nutrients that a varied diet provides or be able to fend off problems and diseases. The same is true for honey bees.
At the Bayer Western Field Technology Station near Fresno, California, researchers study which types of blooms are most attractive and nutritious for bees. By examining bloom time, bloom length and bee forage time on blooming crops, they can determine the best seed mixes to meet different growers’ requirements.
Based on Bayer’s research, Project Apis m. now offers growers a mustard mix for fall and winter bloom, and a clover mix, wildflower mix and vetch for spring bloom. The benefits of the program include improved soil fertility, nitrogen enrichment, better water infiltration, weed suppression, erosion prevention – and helping to increase forage for some of agriculture’s hardest workers.