THE HIGH COST OF ALMONDS … FOR BEES: The Great Elephant in the Room of Modern American Apiculture

by Debra Roberts on January 31, 2015

It is almost Valentine’s Day and every year at this time, millions of beehives will soon be trucked from holding yards and commercial apiaries to pollinate almonds trees, which are completely honeybee-dependent. California’s almonds are central to the largest managed pollination event in the world, unique to the US because of how much of the almond market we have. With over 800,000 acres of these trees, this state produces about 80% of the world’s almonds. This crop is one of California’s most lucrative agricultural exports. Approximately 60% of all the managed hives in the United States are needed to pollinate these trees. The bloom lasts for about two weeks, beginning around Valentine’s Day (which I find ironic, given that the stresses and strains on the bees is a complete and utter un-valentine for them).

Many years ago, I attended a honeybee lecture given by my dear friend Diane Almond (yes, that’s her real name). It was there that I saw my first photo of a flatbed truck with more than 500 hives stacked on it, enroute to California. I sat in the back of the auditorium and sobbed. I just could not believe what I was seeing. It has taken me years to compose an article about this annual American ritual, because I have been sorely un-composed. I needed time to simmer down, restore balance in my soul, find the high road, keep my heart engaged, and to be quiet enough in my bee yard, the sanctuary I share with the bees, to really listen … and know how to respond. And ah, if The Good Bee Road didn’t reveal herself. I flowered into a honeybee educator, speaker, mentor, advocate, artist, steward … and finally finished writing this piece (at long last). So here it is, THE HIGH COST OF ALMONDS … FOR BEES: The Great Elephant in the Room of Modern Apiculture. It is time to get this issue fully out of the bee closet and into the light of day.

I am grateful to Wendy Stancil, Bhramari Devi Dasi, Jack Fischer, and others who have been tending the fire of this same conversation. And infinite thanks to Rowan Jacobsen for writing his seminal book, Fruitless Fall.  The chapter called “The Almond Orgy” eloquently describes this largest of all annual pollination events in the world … and its effect on bees.

I offer this article up into the world conversation and consciousness. And I raise a glass to you, the precious honeybees, who I love with all my heart. This is for you, m’dears.

Blessed be, blessed bees.


PS  I will launch The Sacred Path of Bee online series by the end of July. Thanks to everyone for your patience (and especially to Maria, Rebecca and Wann, Zeeva, Wendy and so many others who keep gently knocking on the door). Stay tuned.


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