National Geographic : 1993 May
pesticides have made it impossible for wild bees to do all the work. Enter the migratory beekeeper. The pollination season begins with a bang in California in February. Hundreds of beekeepers come to the Central Valley from as far away as Texas and Minne sota, lured by the biggest bee pollination bonanza in the U. S., almonds. "Almonds have changed the face of bee keeping more than anything," said Joe Traynor, a former beekeeper who now bro kers pollination contracts and makes sure the bees get delivered in time for the three week-long bloom. "When I'm getting ten calls an hour and growers are hollering for their bees, it's stressful." In 1960 virtually no out-of-state beekeep ers came here, Traynor told me. "Pollina tion fees were $2.00 a hive, and it wasn't worth the trip." But as the state's almond groves grew from roughly 100,000 acres to today's 400,000 acres, so did demand for bees. Growers need two hives an acre. At today's rental rate of $32 a hive, the almond pollination bill could exceed 25 mil lion dollars. It's a bonanza for the bees too. Inside the hives they are filling wax combs with the only foods they naturally live on, nuggets of pollen (beebread it's called) and honey. To make honey, foraging bees regurgi tate nectar into the mouths of "house" bees, which add enzymes and store the mixture in the tiny hexagonal cells of the comb. Then they fan it with their wings to reduce the moisture content and cap each cell with a thin layer of wax they secrete from abdominal glands. Most people con sider almond honey too bitter to eat, so the bees get to keep it for themselves. Ten frames of comb hang vertically from the top edge of each hive. As the colony grows, the beekeeper can extend the hive by stacking an empty hive box on top. At the center of a healthy hive the queen lays eggs, as many as 2,000 a day, which quickly change into larvae. These are fed frequently by worker bees, the infertile females that constitute more than 98 per cent of the hive's population. Workers clean and defend the hive and fill the outer edges of the comb with pollen and honey. The few male bees, called drones, exist America's Beekeepers: Hives for Hire Saying good-bye is a seasonal ritualfor Joe Tweedy (above, at right) and most of his family, who have been chasing mild Califor nia winters and Minnesota summers for more than 30 years. Today the traveling crew-16 people strong-includes (facing page, left to right)Joe, his grandsons Jeremy and Aaron Anderson, employee Chris Slater, and son-in-law JeffAnderson. "If you took a poll and asked most kids what theirfathers do, they'd have no idea," says Jeff. "My boys know, because they work with me." On the road to Minnesota, Jeff's son Aaron sprays the hives to keep the bees cool.