Density, Diversity and Duration. These are the three Project Apis m. objectives when selecting the best Seeds For Bees plantings. Today, Rory Crowley and Stetcyn Malonado join us to talk about the importance of planting ground cover in the fall so...
Density, Diversity and Duration. These are the three Project Apis m. objectives when selecting the best Seeds For Bees plantings. Today, Rory Crowley and Stetcyn Malonado join us to talk about the importance of planting ground cover in the fall so bees arriving to the almond orchards in the spring have an immediate food source.
The program’s goal is to provide seeds for bees to growers of almonds in California that will be in bloom when bees begin arriving for almond pollination as early as December and January each bloom season. Finding the right plants and then finding growers who can take advantage of this program is the job of Rory, the PAm Seeds for Bees Organizer.
Density determines the amount of seed needed to adequately cover the amount of space between the rows of almond trees in an orchard. Duration looks at when they begin blooming and when they quit, and diversity is the goal such that there are many different species of plants in that planting so that duration and diversity work together to provide enough good food for the bees until almond bloom starts.
Stetcyn is working with the same objectives but working only with Blue Diamond growers, who have different goals and time tables to adhere to, but the process is the same. Have blooms before the bees get to California, be blooming until almond bloom and never have hungry bees again.
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Jeff Ott: Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast presented by Bee Culture. Beekeeping Today Podcast is your source for beekeeping news, information, and entertainment. I'm Jeff Ott.
Kim Flottum: I'm Kim Flottum.
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Jeff: Thank you, Sherry, and thanks to Bee Culture for continuing their presenting sponsorship of this podcast. Bee Culture has been the magazine for American beekeeping since 1873. A quick thanks to all of our sponsors whose support enables us to bring you this podcast each week without resorting to a fee-based subscription. We don't want that and we know you don't either.
Make sure to check out all of our other content on our website. There, you can read up on all of our guests, read our blog on various aspects and observations about beekeeping, search for or download and listen to over 200 past episodes, read episode transcripts, [chuckles] leave comments and feedback on each show, and check on podcast specials from our sponsors. You can find it all at www.beekeepingtodaypodcast.com. Kim, you had some nice weather yesterday. How's it today?
Kim: We had a teaser.
Kim: It was just up a little bit over 60.
Kim: There were a fair number of bees flying. Today, of course, it's 37.
Kim: There are no bees. Although it's going to be in the mid to upper 30s for the next week and a half or so, they're saying, although it's not summer, it beats a heck out of what they had two weeks ago.
Jeff: Oh, you guys just froze to pieces there.
Jeff: The bees here, lots of rain, but it's been in the high 40s, very low 50s, and it's been nice to have the bees come in with lots of pollens, so makes me feel good.
Kim: Well, if you're running Russian bees, they should be really happy right now.
Jeff: [laughs] Well, no, I'm all Carniolan, but that's a little tease for a future episode. We talked to Dan Conlon this week about Russian bees, so that'll be fun. Folks, that'll be in a couple of weeks. We'll have that out. Kim, what are you hearing from the almond orchards out in California?
Kim: Well, I'm getting spotty reports. I'm not going to say that it's everywhere, everybody, but I've got some reports that things are pretty good from people who were over winter down the south of west. Well, Southeast had that hurricane that took out a lot of bees. I don't know what's going on up north, except people are pulling their hair out looking for bees. I'm hearing there aren't going to be nearly enough. Time will tell and I may have to come back and change this story, but heads up. It's not looking good, I'm hearing.
Jeff: Wow. Well, that's a shame to hear. I'm sure that there's a lot of people scrambling if that's the case.
Kim: I got to wonder, we did the indoor wintering. I'm going to try and touch base with those folks and see how they did. If you lost two-thirds of the rest of the bees outside and the ones on the inside did good, I think there's going to be a lot of buildings going up this year.
Jeff: [chuckles] Yes, for sure. You don't happen to have a big garage out anywhere that you could store some bees in, do you?
Kim: I've got a garage that holds my car and my lawnmower.
Jeff: [laughs] A few ducks and chickens, I guess.
Kim: No, I got no space. I'm wishing I did.
Jeff: Yes, definitely. Well, speaking of the almonds, coming up on the show, we have Rory Crowley from Project Apis m. talking about the Seeds for Bees program.
Kim: That's a good program. I like growing flowers and that's all they do, so that's pretty good. The variety that they're using and the almond, they're everywhere. The almond people are beginning to really take notice of the difference that they're making when you've got flowers that come up before the almond trees are ready to pollinate and go away shortly after the almond trees have been pollinated, so the bees get a big boost right when they need it.
Jeff: Exactly. We'll hear Rory talk about that here coming up, but just a little tease. Like you said, the flowers come up. They're there when the bees are dropped and the bees stick around and they're all set for the pollination services. Let's get right into the discussion with Rory and the Seeds for Bees with Project Apis m.
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Jeff: While you're at the Strong Microbial site, make sure you click on and subscribe to the Hive, the regular newsletter full of interesting beekeeping facts and product updates. Everybody, thanks again for joining us. Sitting across a virtual Zoom table right now are two people from Project Apis m., Rory Crowley and Stetcyn Maldonado. Welcome to Beekeeping Today Podcast.
Rory Crowley: Hey, thanks for having us. This is great.
Kim: Nice to get to meet you, guys.
Jeff: In October, we had Danielle, who's the executive director of Project Apis m. or PAm, in on the show talking about the Costco scholarship programs, but Project Apis m. or and Project Apis m. is involved in many different programs. Most importantly, in a time of year that we're coming into now, which is the almond season, Project Apis m. gets really busy. Rory, why don't you tell us what you do as part of Project Apis m. in the Habitat and the Seeds for Bees program?
Rory: Sure, absolutely. Just to orient everybody back to Danielle's talk a little bit, Project Apis m., our mission is to fund research and efforts to improve honeybee health and vitality. That's who we are. That's what we do. To be frank, we were started by both beekeepers and almond growers. Christi Heintz and Dan Cummings started this back in the so-called colony collapse problems back in the mid-2000s.
Since then, we've grown. In the last seven or eight years, we've been running the Seeds for Bees program, which is really there to put habitat on the ground as we all know, especially in working lands, agroecology. We're really losing forage for a number of different reasons. It's not just agriculture. It's also due to development and some other things. Project Apis m. has really three pillars as it were.
Resources that are grown out of that research for field-applied practical guidance and knowledge for beekeepers and bee operations and then, thirdly, we're about solutions. Seeds for Bees falls under that third category for solutions. We're an engineered forage habitat program as I like to say. In other words, we go into these agricultural settings and we plant forage that would have otherwise not have been there.
One of the angles that we use, we take cover crops, specifically-designed cover crops that have what we call the three D's: density, diversity and duration of bee forage. When we think about what we're trying to do with habitat to help the bees, particularly as you were talking about, Jeff, particularly through the almond harvest, we know that almond pollen is good for bees. They come out all jacked up.
As one local beekeeper said, "You come out of the Amazon all jacked up." You do it right and you don't spray them. We also know that that's one source of forage. Especially, obviously, everybody knows, bees go in. The almond bloom usually isn't there, especially in a year like this. We've got rains coming in, mud, it's hard to get in. They're putting them in early right now and there's some sun.
That density, diversity, and duration is really important to have prior to the almond bloom. We know as beekeepers and the bee industry, almonds really set the stage for the rest of the year for the health of that colony and also for the economic viability of the beekeeper if they do come to California or if they're in California. Seeds for Bees, the mix is available at-- Seeds for Bees are designed to bloom at these critical times.
If we get these seeds in the ground, these cover crops in the ground in October, which is a critical point, then we would like to see these blooming cover crops prior to the almond bloom so that when bees are dropped, not only are they going to stick around until the bloom and not go forage elsewhere, but they're going to have real, true available forage when, obviously, other natural forage is scarce.
Seeds for Bees serves not only the needs of beekeepers but also growers and, at the same time, increasing land and climate stewardship and also biodiversity. We have a number of value propositions. I would say two of the strongest really are there is an agronomic component to cover crops. In other words, it's good for the soil if we do it right. At the same time, it's good for the bees. It's good for the beekeepers.
It's not just good for commercial managed honeybees. We also believe at Project Apis m. that a rising tide floats all boats, right? There's this big talk and real argument about competition. We all know people like Diana Cox-Foster just got that out of her language and has just said, "You know what? There's interaction here. We don't have enough data for competition."
Regardless here at Seeds for Bees, we know that our program, a rising tide floats all boats. We're specifically here to serve the needs of beekeepers and Apis mellifera. You could probably just couch it by saying, "Look, honeybees and soil health, those are our two value propositions. We're improving the lives of beekeepers, bees, producers for the benefit of our local ecosystems."
Jeff: This is targeted specifically for the orchards. Right now, the almonds are the focus, but you're also working with other orchards such as apples. I'm up here in Washington State, so the apples and peaches and those other orchard crops for big players as well.
Rory: Yes, that's right. Seeds for Bees, however, is relatively young. We've been around for six or seven years. Our work is not done here in California. As we all know, almonds are the biggest, largest bee-pollinated crop in the world. They're also the first to the scene. We really haven't made that big of an inroad into the percentage of-- Now, granted, almond growers are absolutely leading the charge here, but the percentage of almond growers or tree nuts or-- and we have a lot of apples here, a lot of cherries.
Obviously, the Pacific Northwest is bigger than those crops, but we really service all crops. The Seeds for Bees program is only for California working lands. We want to go up to Pacific Northwest. We just don't have the resources or the human capital to do that right now. In fact, we get calls quite commonly, particularly from Pacific Northwest scholars, bee scholars that I'm sure you know just saying, "Hey, can you come up here?" [chuckles] I said, "No, we can't, but we'll try to consult."
Our program is specifically designed for California working lands. You have to have two acres or more and there's reasons for that, logistical reasons, and seed and all this kind of stuff. Then you have to have a bee-pollinated crop or be contiguous to a bee-pollinated crop or somehow be beneficially helping those bee-pollinated crops if you're near them or if you have colonies on your property, for example. We know a lot of vineyards and service a lot of vineyards that have just a lot of hives, a lot of colonies on their vineyard. We're going to fund those, right?
Kim: You bring up a good point. The first thing I would wonder about not being in California and not being an almond person is I've got 10 acres of land here that I'm not using. Could I put that in a Seeds for Bees mix and put 10 colonies on that land and let them make honey on it?
Rory: Yes, it's a good question. We get that question all the time from people all around the States. Again, we go back to this idea that we're only operating in California. However, the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund, which is a sister organization that grew out of Project Apis m., I think in nine states and the Midwest-Great Plains area, that's where you want to go. Again, we really don't have a lot of great habitat programs that service every single state in the lower 48. Hawaii and Alaska.
We're small and it's a relatively new endeavor, so to speak. This terrible habitat loss has really taken off. That's the need. Now, these other organizations are coming up, but what I would look into is the Bee & Butterfly Habitat Fund. If you're in their range, look for them. They are all about it. Pete over there is just an amazing guy. I'm learning everything I can from him as I am from Danielle, but we operate in California.
It's something that we don't like to say, "No, I'm sorry. We can't send you seed." The other component here is that each state has their own specific regulations and limitations on what seed you can sell on a commercial basis. For example, some of these states in the Pacific Northwest will not allow mustard-rapeseed into the state grown at a commercial level because they consider it invasive. When you start designing these things, then you have to design them specifically for blooms that hit those commercial cash crops.
It's very contextually specific and also state-specific, regionally specific. We have 52 or 53, something like that, specialty crops here in California. We're just getting to know how to do this in almonds, both scientifically and practically. It's relatively new practice. It's not the silver bullet that a lot of our communities think in these other spaces. There is a ton of silver lining from the agronomic and the health perspective.
Kim: Another question comes up immediately when you say you're California only and you're dealing with almonds. I look at the valley. There's a far northern end of the valley and a far southern end of the valley. I'm going to guess that what I'm planting up north isn't going to be what they're planting down south?
Rory: That's a good question. I would say that any of our mixes have been designed to operate in any setting within the Central Valley. There's enough microclimate overlap, macroclimate overlap within the Central Valley that are mixes are versatile enough to be planted anywhere in California. We don't just operate in the Central Valley. There's a number of valleys like the Napa Valley or the Imperial Valley that aren't necessarily technically in the Central Valley.
In some of those valleys like Napa Valley or in St. Helena, we can plant because there's a little bit more moderate of a climate over there. We can plant at different times and still have success. To answer your question, we have five mixes. Those five mixes are really designed for any working lands in California. You have other components. What kind of soil do you have? What are your water requirements? What kind of precipitation do you have? That's when we start getting into the nuances as to which mix of ours is going to work best in which region.
Jeff: Then you consider what time of year you want something to bloom, correct?
Rory: Yes, that's correct. Again, getting back to that idea of density, diversity, and duration. All of our mixes have a number of species in them. The primary reason for creating these mixes was to have that triple D, right? Density, diversity, and duration. On the duration side, we have early-blooming varieties, mid-blooming varieties, and late-blooming varieties. Our Pollinator Brassica Mix, for example, is just Brassicas.
Beekeepers, as far as I'm concerned, at least the guys that I'm talking to, are pollinator-- I'm a farmer here in Chico up in the northern Sacramento Valley. Russ Heitkam's our guy. He loves mustard, right? Mustard's a great pollinator. It helps the bees out tremendously. Take our pollinator Brassica, for example. It's got canola, three different kind of mustards, and daikon radish. They're all Brassica species, but each one of those is designed to bloom at a different time.
Let's just say we have the ideal planting scenario. We have the ideal precipitation or irrigation. We have the ideal management of a cover crop within an almond orchard, which is our goal. We are absolutely about that. We would plant in October. We'd get our growers to plant in October. I'd plant in October as we've been doing for the last eight years. October is really critical as a planting window for cover crop in California.
What we work with are winter annual cover crops as opposed to summer annual cover crops or even perennial cover crops. They're designed to be planted in October and then terminated after the bees are out, maybe perhaps prior to turning on the water, so they don't take water, "more water," or we're not going to go in there and spray with a herbicide, right? We want to terminate that crop, so we're not inviting indiscriminately these things.
Let's go back and just look at this. If we do it right with each one of our mixes, we plant in October right after the almond harvest. That's really an ideal time for an almond orchard because, typically, what happens in a conventional setting is they do a roundup treatment or a burndown treatment tree to tree to get the floor just like a pool table because that's how the almond equipment works. That's how our harvest equipment works.
They do this tree-to-tree application herbicide. They come in. They float it out. They shake the nuts to the ground. They get all the harvest, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, two or three varieties. Then they come back and there's a mound there when they picked it up from the harvester. Typically, what they'll do is they'll come back and they'll float it out and get it nice and flat and then it's real puffy. It's what farmers call tilth.
It's a perfect seedbed and we do that without planting cover crop, but it's a perfect seedbed that we've created. Then we just wait for the rain. Not only is there no competition because you just put it down with roundup or whatever product you're using. You also have this perfect seedbed of tilth that we can then go in and plant these seeds. You get done with harvest. You clean up the floor a little bit. You've created the perfect seedbed.
Then you put the seed down either through a drill or broadcast and you either wait for the rain or you initiate germination through irrigation. Up in the north state, that's a lot easier because we have a lot more water. We also have higher distribution uniformity irrigation systems that can get to the middle. In other words, we can get water to the middle. We initiate that germination. We continue to watch it.
One of the things that I've always told growers as my experience has yielded and Stetcyn is also a part of, just understanding this from a farming perspective, is that you have to manage a cover crop program. It's not a one-and-done. The way that I say this is, "Look, if you go in and you just cast this seed and hope for the best, it's going to fail on you." It has to be managed like a good water program, a good integrated pest management program, a good nitrogen program.
Let's get back to the timeline. Harvest comes. We get it all cleaned up and nuts are out. Perfect seedbed. We come in October. We plant. We initiate a germination. We have watchful management into November, December. We're watching it grow. At that point, the rains start taking over. We get sunlight and the leaves fall off, so we get even more sunlight. Light interception is really important for cover crop and anything growing obviously for photosynthesis. Then we start getting into January.
By January, if you've done it right, you have a good amount of above-ground biomass. You're starting to see the canola flower out because that's that early blooming variety. I actually had someone down the street here plant our cover crop and she had canola blooming in December because she planted it well. She managed it well and she saw those benefits. If bees were dropped in her orchard in December, they would have every reason to stick around and not go forage anywhere else until the bloom happened, right?
The idea is we want that cover crop to be blooming prior to the bees dropping. Because once the bees are dropped, then they actually have natural forage, right? These bees haven't seen a single flower for months. Maybe they haven't seen for many, many, many months because it's been patties or it's been just the things that we're feeding them that aren't the natural stuff or whatever. I don't really know how to say that, so I hope that doesn't make anybody mad.
They haven't seen a single natural flower for months. We all know that. They get dropped. They get on these trucks and they get dropped and then, boom, there's already flowers on the ground. Then they're waiting for the largest pollination event in the world with some of the best amino acids and some of the best nectar source. You come out of Central Valley and the bees, they love almonds, but they also love our mixes. We're giving them that diverse, so there's that other D, that diverse habitat.
It's not just almond pollen. It's mustard pollen, it's nectar, and then the mustard start coming in one at a time. We've got an Orion mustard. We've got a Nemfix mustard. We've got a white mustard. Those come in at different points as well as the daikon, and so then we have multiple sources during bloom, this from our cover crop and from an almond pollen and nectar. Then once the petal fall happens, which we all know, those bees can actually stick around because our later varieties are still in bloom, right?
Really, when you do it well and you do it right, what you have is a very happy beekeeper because, at that point, they could just keep their bees there. As long as people aren't spraying stuff, they can keep their bees there until they're ready to go, and then they're really, really jacked up. They're healthy, right? That's the idea. Density, diversity, and duration. That kind of schema, that schema that we just put out there, that kind of narrative, it's very, very critical for a farmer to have technical advice and guidance because they've never done this before.
We don't plant cover crop naturally. We used to do it a long time ago, 50, 60, 70 years ago. They need technical advice and that's what Seeds for Bees provides, right? Our value propositions at Seeds for Bees are three things. Number one, agronomic value to the grower. We are going to improve your soil. We're going to improve your soil's biology. We're going to improve your soil's structure. We're also going to improve certain things about your soil's chemical components.
That's the one we always get. We're always getting chemical components. We're going to improve your soil. We're going to improve the bees and the bee health of what's going on here because they're going to have a better diverse diet. Everybody knows that. Then we're also saying, we're going to teach you how to do all this. We know you don't know how to do it. I've been doing it for eight years in almond systems, in walnut systems. We're going to teach you how to do it. That's our value proposition.
Jeff: Hey, this sounds like a great place to take a quick break and we'll be right back.
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Kim: Rory, I have to ask you. From way out in the left field, does the grower get any credit for carbon storage? With all of the climate change stuff going on, is the grower going to be able to take advantage of that, at least to some degree?
Rory: Oh man, such a good question, Kim. Danielle, who before she hired me, she said, "What are the big things we need to focus on?" I said water, carbon, and soil health.
Rory: Obviously, we need to focus on bee health. If we do all those things really well, it just happens to positively benefit bees and beekeepers both economically and otherwise. Couple of things on this. Cover crop is pretty much in its infancy along with Seeds for Bees as it relates to the scholarship of some of these things that we're all concerned about whether it's carbon, whether it's how much water it's going to take, or really how much water it's going to save from our perspective.
We're getting to know, specifically through the University of California, Davis, the number of scholars that are over there working on these questions that we all have. A recent paper was published, basically summarizing what we know about engineered forage or cover crop placed in an almond orchard. What do we know and what do we don't know about cover crop implementation in almonds?
The paper really did a great job. There was 11 different scholars from all over California and Oregon. The top of the top. These people are the cover crop agroecologist A-team, right? They're just the best. What we really saw there was just a synthesis of what we know and what we don't know. We know a lot more than we don't, but there are a lot of critical knowledge gaps. One of them is carbon.
We know that cover crops obviously have the ability to store carbon. I've thought about this a lot over the years. When we think about carbon, we have to think carbon as a geological process, especially carbon capture, right? Carbon capture is a geological process. Any geological process takes time. When we look at annual cover cropping, we're going in there planting seed every year, and then we're terminating it five months after we planted it, six months after we planted it.
Is there carbon storage? Yes, we know that. Generally, we look at annual cover crops a little bit more broadly in the sense that GHG, general greenhouse gas reduction emissions, is-- There's more general GHG reduction in annual cover cropping. We're still asking the question about carbon, particularly how far down does carbon gets stored within cover crops through the roots? We don't really have a good picture of the soil strata and carbon sequestration.
Kim, you're right. I've said for years and years and years as well as the industry, especially the almond industry, we're agroforestry at its best. We're taking atmospheric carbon, storing it into our trees. Then, unfortunately, the majority of the industry, we cut them down and we burn them up. That 20, 25 years of atmospheric carbon goes up. Something that we've done here at Seeds for Bees in the past year as we started a carbon mix pilot program.
We engineered three perennial, long-term, five to seven-year mixes that'll come back annually. Not the annual stuff that we're talking about that we plant in orchards, but longer-term stuff. We've started this carbon project. We did three mixes and we deployed it on 10 different ranches all over the Central Valley. Majority up here in Chico because there's a lot of cool people that I knew that would do this for us, but the goal there is to have a carbon capture mix in the next three years.
We're quantifying baseline carbon capture within-- Well, let me put it this way. We're quantifying our baseline right now. What was in the ground and what are we actually going to be storing? We're just looking at a baseline. We've deployed these three mixes. They're all different mixes. Basically, the families are grasses and legumes, and also they have to have a pollination component. We're not just going out there and getting cover crop carbon capture.
We need to have a very strong-- Those three D's are really important. Getting back to that density, diversity, and duration of forage for bees. We wanted these to have very high-value propositions, not just carbon, although that's a very high-value proposition. We needed them to be low water because water is a big deal in California. We wanted to grow on very low amounts of water in very arid places. Then we also needed them to have a pollination component for commercial honeybees and native pollinators as well.
We're getting into that. We're looking at it right now in partnering with an AgTech company called Vitidore that basically does this. I've worked with a number of people over there at Vitidore for a long time on cover crop research. They come up right out of UC Davis. Now, they're in the private sector measuring carbon. We're looking at that. We hope that within three years, we're either going to deploy all three of these for growers or we're going to deploy one of them. That's the hope.
I think we're not going to get into offsets and insets and selling carbon credits on the market. I think we're just going to be the people who are sitting back, planting these cover crops, and then having those who are specialists in monetizing that come to us and say, "Hey, how can we make this a win-win for everybody?" It's a good question, Kim. We're in it. We're trying. It's not to say that even our annuals don't do this with carbon, we're still on that cusp of trying to figure that out scientifically.
Kim: That's good to hear because the world is in trouble, but another question comes up to me and you mentioned it. The time when you plant your annuals, as I understand it, tends to be the wettest part of the year out there where you are. Some parts of the valley and parts of California, it's really never wet. It's maybe wet enough but never wet, except this year.
Kim: So far anyway, [chuckles] but how many inches of water does it take to produce this crop to get it to blooming stage?
Rory: Again, Kim, another incredible question and I really appreciate you asking that. I promise, I did not throw these questions out to them prior to this, so this is good. This is a very good conversation. There's a number of answers to that. Number one, we have not, nor has anyone in the Central Valley as far as I'm concerned who deals with cover crop, ever quantified scientifically either in lab scale or field trials.
Maybe some people at NRCS that I know, they're probably laughing at me right now, or Davis people. Of course, we've quantified the water use of this particular thing. We've never quantified our mixes, but the gal who we did a pretty groundbreaking water study on our ranch and other nine ranches got her PhD in hydrology. A gal by the name of Alyssa DeVincentis. She and I are going to start talking about doing a lab scale and quantifying our mixes in particular.
From a scientific perspective, we are again jumping into that pool head first, okay? There's a number of reasons for that because water is becoming more and more and more-- it's becoming more and more of an issue. Let's just put it that way. We need to be able to scientifically quantify how much water our mixes use. Anecdotally, I think farmers know how much water these things use. They know how much they need to get to a place of 1, 2, 3 feet.
I've always said and I'll just use this as an example. Our Brassica mix, I've planted pollinator Brassica from PAm for many, many years. I've said 1 inch a foot of green biomass foliage. 1 inch a foot and they're going to flower. If you keep them alive, they can have their limited water. They're still going to try to get that reproductive cycle going no matter what. The question is whether or not the pollen's going to be good or the nectar for the bees.
What I'll say is, on this particular thing, as we go into these more extreme weather events, we're looking at-- One thing you have to know from context is the northern Sacramento Valley is much different as we've already indicated here than the San Joaquin Valley. You can split the valley up. Stockton Delta, go north, you're in the northern Sacramento Valley. You go south, you're in the San Joaquin Valley. Even within the San Joaquin Valley, then you split that up. It's Southern San Joaquin and Northern San Joaquin, but let's just, for the sake of argument, keep it easy.
They have vastly different precipitation and weather. Northern Sacramento Valley and San Joaquin. It depends on who you look at and it depends on who quantifies it, but we can get in a normal year up in the northern Sacramento Valley. It's why the biggest reservoirs are up here and because of the snowpack. In Chico, for example, we're 26 to 36 inches. Well, down in Arvin, which is Southern San Joaquin, you might get six. Again, it depends on who you talk to and where you are and all these kinds of things.
Again, if we're going to plant pollinator Brassica, all we need is 3 inches. If you get 6 inches of precept, it just means you have to plant at the right time before a storm. Now, that's probably simplifying things. At the end of the day, we're quantifying our mixes this year so that growers will know not just how much precipitation they need, but if they need to irrigate what they can use and what they can allocate to that specific cover crop. Again, we're diving right into that. It's another phenomenal question.
Kim: It gets complicated fast. [laughs]
Rory: Yes, absolutely.
Kim: Rory, sitting next to you, you brought somebody with you today that's also part of Project Apis. Fill us in here.
Rory: Yes, this is former colleague, now current colleague, friend of mine, Stetcyn Maldonado. She is just a great person and a fine worker and an intelligent gal. Stetcyn worked for us at Nicolaus Nut Company, where my wife still owns Nicolaus Nut Company. We subbed that out. NicNut Farms is what it's called now. We basically hired Stetcyn right out of college. One of the things that made me hire her is she said, "I want to get a PhD." I said, "Okay." "I got to get a master's first."
I said, "Okay," "but I want to get practical agricultural experience." I just said, "Okay, enough is enough. You're hired," right? Her first week, she was pruning young almond orchard. I got a picture of that. She very quickly rose into the ranks and all of that. Stetcyn will tell you more. Right now, Stetcyn has been hired specifically to run a very, very similar program to Seeds for Bees. Blue Diamond Growers was just awarded, along with Project Apis m., Pollinator Partnership, and a couple of other organizations, a very large USDA grant partnership for the climate-smart commodities.
It's $45 million. Project Apis m., as it stands now, we haven't signed the final contract, is standing to get about $8 million of that for two different practices. Conservation cover, which is that outside of the orchard, longer-term planting that we're talking about. Then also the annual in-row cover cropping that Seeds for Bees is in. She's going to be running very similar programs. She's going to be liaison from PAm, Seeds for Bees, to Blue Diamond. I wouldn't put anybody else in that position, but I'll stop talking. Stetcyn, why don't you go ahead and go over your background a little bit?
Stetcyn Maldonado: Thanks, Rory. Thanks for the introduction. A little bit about my background. As you know, I worked for Nicolaus Nut. While I was there, I got my PCA license. That's the pest control advisor. I also, later on, got my CCA license, which is a certified crop advisor. Recently, I graduated from Chico State and I got a master's of science in ag education.
That's another step towards getting my doctorate and achieving my goals. Like Rory said, I'm going to be the liaison for Blue Diamond. I'm going to be working with cover crops and conservation covers. Very similar to Seeds for Bees. I'm really excited about cover crops. Every day, I learned something new. I worked with cover crops at Nicolaus Nut. There's always something exciting.
Kim: Stetcyn, it sounds like you're doing outside the orchard what he's doing in the orchard. You're providing cover crops for bees at the right time.
Stetcyn: Yes. Basically, I'm doing the same thing that Rory's doing with Seeds for Bees, but I'm doing that through Blue Diamond Growers. We're working with supporting with cover crop and we're doing a little bit of conservation cover. What we're doing is the same thing as Seeds for Bees.
Jeff: Very cool. You both are working hard. I mentioned it earlier, but this time of year is really a critical time of year as the bees are starting to come into the almonds at this point, right?
Kim: This year is they're ahead of schedule. There's a lot of them up there already, but it's a special year, I guess. Stetcyn, how do you make that work? You're working with just Blue Diamond Growers or I guess what's your involvement there?
Stetcyn: As far as I understand, I'm going to be working as a liaison. I'm going to be talking between Project Apis m., I'm going to be talking with Blue Diamond. I'll also be working as an advisor for their growers, so they'll be able to contact me. They'll be able to talk to me and tell me what their problems are, what their unique situation is, and I'll be able to help them pick what variety is good for them or what mix is good for them.
Kim: It's nice to have a go-to when you have those kinds of questions, somebody who knows exactly the right answer, and it's always good to hear.
Rory: I want to make an announcement to bee yards here in California, whether they're temporary bee yards, the staging yards. We're going to be giving away and we can go back over this, but I would like to get beekeeper involvement. If you have a bee yard here or a temporary bee staging area and/or you call California home, we are launching a new initiative this year that any beekeeper or beekeeper operation that is a commercial operation with viable pollination contracts at scale-- we haven't figured out exactly what that's going to be yet.
You are now classified as, essentially, a grower, right? We've always serviced the growers here in the Central Valley, in California generally. Now, we want to get into the bee industry and we want to say, "Okay, if you've got a yard here, I don't know why we haven't done this in the past. We need your help." Not only that, we want to start talking about what it looks like to actively partner with the bee industry as it relates to-- Okay, if we got flower and cover crop when you arrive, there should be a discount.
I know it's kind of an interesting thing to talk about. Imagine for a moment if you arrived in California, no flowers anywhere on where you're pollinating, and then you're just patties and whatever else. That's very common. It's very typical. The cost is substantial with that. What if you arrive to an orchard and you have flowering cover crop that then lasts another two, three months, where none of that feed is going in?
Imagine the cost that you're saving there, right? If we do it right, I think there's a conversation that we can have. I know a number of beekeepers that are doing this now. I'm very happy about that. If they arrive and there is blooming cover crop, it's within the contract, or it's a handshake, we hope for a contract that you get $5 off per hive. You get $10 off per hive. We're all in survival mode. Let's just be very clear, okay?
Nonpareils, maybe. $1.50 right now. That's today. Just heard it from my father-in-law. It's not good, okay? We've heard so many people say, even this year here in California, "I can't afford bees." Mel Machado of Blue Diamond, I heard him say the other day. We were at a function with him and he goes, "That's the stupidest thing I ever heard." I think the same thing too like an almond grower saying, "I can't afford bees."
Well, number one, they're probably "stealing bees" from the neighbor who actually paid for them. At the end of the day, the bee industry-- and this is speculation now, okay? The almond industry are in such that everybody's having a hard time. Everybody's in survival mode. We need ways to incentivize good relationships between almond growers and beekeepers. One of the ways to do that, to shake hands and even pat the backs and give hugs, is to say, "Let's put forage here."
There's an agronomic benefit for the grower and there's a benefit for the beekeeper, right? If we do it right, there's a win-win situation. That should be, I think, incentivized by the bee industry. We've had this conversation with a lot of big beekeepers and they're willing to do it. We just haven't planted at the right time. We haven't managed the right way. We haven't had the rain over drought.
We made every effort to get seed to the grower's door before October 1st. I got 70% of our seed out the door. We did 18,000 acres this year. It was a 47% increase. 70% of our growers already had their seed October 1st. By October 15th, it was about 95%. Others wanted it a little bit later. I'm not sure I'm going to do that again because it's not a pit in the goal. The point is we have to plant in October to get the density, diversity, and duration of available forage when the bees are dropped.
This year, it's early. The bees have to be dropped because, quite frankly, we had all this water. We're going to have all this water coming up in February. We have this 9, 10, 11, 12, 13-day period of sunlight where all these operations are able to get in, but we're still going to be 20 days away from peak bloom or even maybe start of bloom. There's a number of people who call that all the time. I'm saying more late February.
Some of the other big players are saying February 20th. We have some what's called warmer rains and now even warm weather over the next-- The point is we would have blooming cover crop if-- I see it. I know it. I have blooming cover crop in our orchards because we planted at the right time, right? If Russ were to bring in his bees right now, those bees have every reason to stay around in my orchard, number one. Number two, Russ has every reason to incentivize me to continue to plant cover crop.
By the way, Russ has his own planter and he does it for almond growers in general. I wish every beekeeper could do that, but that's unrealistic. All that to say, there's a conversation here, and I believe there's a win-win relationship with forage, both agronomically for the grower and for the beekeeper. We've got some real silver lining here that we got to look into and incentivize on both sides.
Kim: I can sit here and ask you questions for the rest of the day, but we're running out of time here. We are definitely going to get you and Stetcyn back here sometime later this year or early next year to find out what the next step is, how you're accomplishing your goals. It's been great talking to you. I'm going to go to California and look at your flowers.
Rory: Very good. We're looking forward to that. This year, we just want to get the word out that planting in October means flowering in January, okay? [laughs] You plant earlier, you get better biomass above ground, below ground. Again, those that dual benefit. Bee productivity and health, soil productivity and health. This isn't snake oil, guys, okay? This is true. This is backed by that paper that I was talking about. You put cover crop roots in the ground. You get life out. Life in, life out. That goes all the way back to the colony, right? We know that. You all as beekeepers know that.
We're really looking forward to the people who got their cover crop in the ground. I wish I was a bee on the tree looking at beekeepers when they just get to the orchard and go, "Holy cow, there's no bloom in this orchard or on these trees, but, man, we got a blooming cover crop. This is awesome." Keep the patty for the next guy who doesn't have it, right? We're really looking forward to that. If you see that as a beekeeper, please, please, please call us, email us, take a picture. If you see our cover crop, our sign, and it is blooming, we want to know about it and we want to do that more.
Jeff: Great way to end the show. Watch for that sign. Look for the cover crop.
Kim: We'll have those addresses on the webpage, right, Jeff?
Jeff: Yes, you bet.
Kim: Well, thanks, guys. This has been fun.
Rory: Absolutely. Yes, thanks for having us.
Stetcyn: Thank you.
Jeff: Look forward to having you back. What they're doing and providing that crop cover is so important. If everybody really realized how important the almond industry is to beekeeping, we dedicated the last 40-plus minutes to talking to Rory and Stetcyn about what they're doing in the almond orchard. It really affects everybody, every beekeeper. The health of the bees in California really affects everybody.
Kim: It does and it affects the beekeeping industry for a whole year. You get a good start or you don't. If you don't, you're going to have a bad year. I think the thing that interested me the most was the use of water and how that's going to work because California is-- I'm almost willing to say I'm glad I don't live there just because of the water issues. They're up and down and up and down to get those under some kind of control with almonds and bees and the other crops they've got there. How much of our food grows in California? A lot. Getting the water straight is going to be important, so I wish them luck. You got to keep the almond growers in business so we can keep the beekeepers in business.
Jeff: That's right.
Kim: I will be interested in talking to them again, maybe in about a year or so to see what they've learned over another growing season and what they've figured out to do different or better.
Jeff: Yes, kudos to them. Well, that about wraps it up for this episode. Before we go, I want to encourage our listeners to rate us five stars on Apple Podcasts, wherever you download and stream the show. Even better, write a review and let other beekeepers looking for a new podcast know what you like. You can get there directly from our website by clicking on reviews along the top of any webpage. As always, we thank Bee Culture, the magazine for American beekeeping, for their continued support of Beekeeping Today Podcast.
We want to thank our regular episode sponsors, Global Patties and Strong Microbials and Betterbee, for their longtime support of this podcast. Thanks to HiveAlive for returning this spring and thanks to Northern Bee Books for their generous support. Check out all of their books at www.northernbeebooks.co.uk. Finally and most importantly, we want to thank you, the Beekeeping Today Podcast listener for joining us on this show. Feel free to leave us questions and comments at "Leave a comment" section under each episode on the website. We'd love to hear from you. Thanks a lot, everybody.
Director of Habitat Programs
Since moving to Chico in 2015, Rory Crowley has served in multiple capacities at Nicolaus Nut Company (NNC), a closely-held family company that owns and manages over 500 acres of almonds and walnuts in the Chico area. Rory learned a new trade from scratch, quickly moving from hole-digger/Equipment Operator to Assistant Operations Manager, Director of Research and Business Development, and finished his time at NNC as Chief Operations Officer and Executive Vice President for Business Development and Field Research.
In January of 2022, Rory came to the Project Apis m. family as the new Director of Habitat Programs.
Rory is a graduate of the 2016 Almond Board of California Leadership Program, where he focused research on issues surrounding almond byproducts and utilization. Through his Leadership Special Project—which received the top honor for his 2016 Class—Rory collaborated with several companies, organizations, and government agencies at local and state levels to find alternative and sustainable uses for almond biomass and co-product, including Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, North State Hulling Cooperative, UC-Davis, CSU-Chico, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. Rory served on the Technical and Regulatory Affairs Committee (TRAC) and the Strategic Ag Innovation Committee (SAIC) for the Almond Board of California and several local and regional boards and committees that serve agricultural and agricultural land stakeholders. Rory is also a Farmer/Mentor at CSU-Chico’s Center for Regenerative Agriculture and Resilient Systems, where his work is showcased on biosolarization, cover crops, and water use efficiency.
Rory has written articles on farming and sustainability in the Sacramento Valley for the Sacramento Bee, West Coast Nut, Growing Produce’s NextGen, and the Chico Enterprise-Record, and has been featured in various publications like the Sacramento Business Journal, Farm Progress, the Almond Board of California’s How We Grow, Project Apis M.’s Seeds for Bees Grower Spotlight and more.
Rory has a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and a master’s degree in ancient history, with a concentration in ancient texts of religious antiquity. Prior to agriculture, Rory served as a Research Fellow for a new museum in Washington, D. C. before he moved back to his wife’s hometown, Chico. He has researched at Princeton, the New York Public Library, the Chester Beatty Library, Oxford’s Sackler Library, the Vatican Library, to name a few.
This research background has served Rory well as he stepped into production agriculture. Though away from the library, Rory had to scratch the research itch, and did so in almond and walnut orchards. More than half a dozen research projects have been fully funded and undertaken at NNC under Rory’s leadership, with world-class researchers and academic institutions, each having the primary goals of advancing scientific inquiry in sustainable agriculture and seeking to make those results understandable, adoptable, and profitable for growers.
Chief among the projects were research with cover crops and soil health. Rory has worked with Dr. Jeff Mitchell and his team at UC Davis to determine tradeoffs associated with winter cover cropping as a means to improve orchard and annual food crop production systems in California. Furthermore, Rory partnered with CSU-Chico’s Dr. Hossein Zakeri to investigate nitrogen fixation with fava beans planted in young walnut orchards. Rory and a team of researchers from UC Davis also pioneered a potentially groundbreaking alternative to chemical soil fumigants called biosolazation, the results of which were recently published in Journal of Applied Soil Ecology.
Rory lives in Chico with his wife, Cassi, their son, Pax (4), their daughter, Milli Jane (2), their son, Judah Paul (4 months), and their awesome cat, Iggy.
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