OHIO VALLEY — Gallia County bees are on the road again heading to California.
Frederick Burdell, a local bee and honey farmer, began shipping his bees to California in the winter time three years ago to help in almond pollination.
According to Burdell, California’s 900,000 acres of almond trees account for 80 percent of all almonds produced in the world. 80 percent of those almonds are exported, making it an important industry.
“The farm gate price for almonds is four billion dollars a year,” said Burdell. “It takes about one and one half million beehives to pollinate, we send about 700 beehives.”
Burdell explained that almonds are 90 percent reliant on insect pollination, carrying pollen from one variety to another in order to produce a crop. The almond trees start blooming about Valentines Day and finish about the second week of March, according to Burdell.
The is mutually beneficial as California almond farmers get their trees pollinated and beekeepers across the country earn financial income as well as excellent food source for their bees. According to Burdell, the beehives are in California for about three to four weeks, earning about $200 for a good hive.
“That’s what it costs to keep the hive alive for a year. Bees do great on almonds, the pollen is good and the nectar is slightly toxic, but they do well on it,” said Burdell.”The almond story to me, is exciting. It is what’s keeping beekeeping alive in the United States today.”
Each year almost 27,000 truckloads of beehives will arrive on California farms for pollination. Each truck has to be inspected upon arrival for cleanliness and other species of insects, and some are turned away despite the high demand for beehives.
“It took us almost two months to go through all our hives and determine which ones were good for sale and get them ready and on pallets,” said Burdell. “It costs about $14,000 to ship them out and back each year.”
Normally the bees make the trip out, pollinate in California and possibly a few other places, and then return to Gallia County. This year, they will be sold out west, as Burdell is seeking to exit the beekeeping world. Burdell has been keeping bees in some form or fashion since the mid 1950’s. He was a honey producer until 2000 when he transitioned into growing and selling bees when the nectar flows slowed significantly.
“Bee keeping is very highly specialized, I read two hundred pages of magazines a month trying to stay up on it,” said Burdell. “I’m 75 years old. Two thirds of my expenses go to labor.”
Reach Morgan McKinniss at 740-446-2342 ext 2108.