An Almond Odyssey
Are you familiar with the term Odyssey? Think back…didn’t it have something to do with some Greek guy, a long time ago. Monsters, ships, sexy sirens on the rocks…it’s all there, somewhere in the back of your mind from high school English class, right? But Odyssey also means an adventuresome voyage, long in distance, time, and with a bit of danger sprinkled in.

Well, come mid-February I’m heading west to the California almond orchards and beyond for a long adventuresome voyage, encompassing an extraordinary story…the grandest pollination event in the universe. Bar none.

California Holding Yard

I start in Bakersfield, talking to pollination broker Joe Traynor about some of his beekeeping clients and some of the almond growers he deals with, then Gordy Wardell, the guy in charge of bees at Paramont Farms (and creator of MegaBee), the largest almond, citrus, and pomegranate grower in California (and probably the world). These folks are the 500 pound gorillas in the living room when it comes to almond pollination. We’ll talk to a several other beekeepers in Bakersfield, including Brett, Kelvin and Richard Adee…running right about 100,000 colonies this year (talk about a gorilla in the living room!)…plus anybody we can find that has a thought on pollinating almonds in the lower San Joaquin valley. I’ll be talking with both migratory operators, and some at-home-in-California beekeepers. They look at things differently, if only because the migratory folks have to deal with making sure all the pallets are clean when they load the truck, go through border ordeals just to get there, and then sit in holding yards for…days, weeks months…before the trees bloom.

Kodua shooting a holding yard

The photographer with me on this adventure, Kodua Galieti, from Los Angeles, has already made the trip to Bakersfield to visit with Gordy at Paramount and look at a bunch of holding yards…take a look at the February issue of Bee Culture, and here, for an eyeful of pallets vanishing into the mist…so we’ve already got a start.
After the beekeeper visits in Bakersfield we want to get airborne and see all this from a totally different perspective. I’m looking forward to being scared to death when that plane, or maybe helicopter, turns on its side so we can look straight down. Well, maybe I am…no matter what, it should be exciting.

After Bakersfield it’s a quick stop at Fresno for more beekeepers, and with luck a quick visit with the folks at The Pollination Connection, who do colony inspections for growers among other things, then up to Modesto to visit with the Blue Diamond growers, who have an exciting project going on where they are providing nutritious food for holding yard bees before and after pollinating almonds…nutrition is a big problem with migratory bees, and this seems one way to help. I urge you to visit the Blue Diamond site because they offer a view and a report of almond bloom and crop development in the north, central and south parts of the valley all during the season.

While in Modesto we hope to also visit with members of The Almond Board, the folks who look out for all the growers and by default, all the beekeepers, too. They fund a lot of beekeeping research, sometimes on their own, and often coupled with Project Apis m, or PAm, another group that have their fingers in a lot of pies when it comes to bees and almonds and pollination.
After Modesto it’s up to the Bay area to spend some time being extremely scattered. In Oakland there’s Ruby, one of the authors of the terrific Urban Homesteading book I reviewed here a bit ago…she teaches sustainable skills to Oakland area folks…gardening, preserving food, home repairs, raising animals like chickens and bees…and that’s where I come in. Her top bar articles here last year were pretty good, but she doesn’t have Ohio winters, so we’ll both learn something.

We'll look at queen and package production at Olivarez Honey Bees

After Ruby, there’s family in Oakland, and then it’s over to Orland to visit Dan Cummings, who’s attached to the Almond Board, Project Apis m, and Olivarez Honey Bees, a queen and package operation, with Ray Olivarez in charge of the day to day operations, where we’ll stop too.

If things go as planned we’ll get a quick visit with Kathy Kellison on one of her Bee Friendly Farms nearby, then on to visit Randy Oliver and John Miller, the subject of the recent book The Beekeeper’s Lament, by Hanna Nordhaus…and then I head back to Cleveland and Kodua heads back to Los Angles from Sacramento on the second of March.

We plan on making regular contributions to this blog, the one at www.motherearthnews.com that will be different than this, probably even something on the BUZZ (sign up here if you haven’t already, it’s free) and then, with luck, something on facebook and maybe twitter, too. That may be a stretch…old dogs, new tricks you know.

Somehow, we’ll keep you informed if you want to come on along on the first ever Almond Odyssey. You’ll have a great time.

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