Why Almonds Need Bees to Survive
Let’s take a minute to think of all the crops that need bees to survive. Hold on, only a minute!? We need more time! Yes, there are so many food crops that rely on pollination by pollinators, and bees are the most productive and effective.
But almonds are a special crop as they are one hundred per cent reliant on bees for their pollination! While almost all of the almond flowers on a tree can grow into nutlets (the first stage of the nut’s development), none can fully develop if the bees don’t pay a visit. To break this down a little further, let’s get back to basics. Most popular almond varieties you can think of are not self-fertile—this is when plants have small, relatively inconspicuous flowers that shed their pollen straight onto the stigma, at times even before the bud opens. Instead, almonds require cross-pollination, a process where the pollination of a flower or plant needs to happen from another flower or plant. In theory, in order to produce a single almond, a tree needs one granule of pollen from another compatible variety at the right time.
This is of course where the bees come in! They are the only insect that can facilitate this process, to cross-pollinate almond trees. And for this reason, from all corners of the globe, almond growers and farmers depend hugely on strong, happy, and healthy honey bee colonies to ensure that their crops survive. And we are not talking a handful of bees here; a big population of bees is required for the process (approximately 3 strong colonies for 17 acres). This is because single bees not only have to visit different flowers of the same tree, they then have to transfer that pollen to other trees of a different variety that are located up to ten metres away. In an interesting fact, this is why farmers often alternate varieties of trees between rows.
And the complications don’t stop there! The almond tree (depending on its variety) is hugely dependent on weather conditions, and the duration of flowering ranges from 4 to 30 days. It is therefore vital that the almond grower facilitates all this cross-pollination activity during this small window of time, as well as ensuring competing weeds and plants don’t distract the bees from their task. Rainfall and unexpected weather conditions also affect this process of pollination, so the farmers really do have a lot on their minds during this optimal time.
But where do all the bees come from you might ask? Well, it’s most common for almond growers to rent huge numbers of bees during this time. Transported overnight when the bees are asleep and to avoid people being stung, the colonies are sent temporarily to almond plantations to help with this pollination process. Once again, bees to the rescue!