How We Grow

2021 Nov/Dec How We Grow

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Benefits Beyond the Hive: Seeds for Bees ® Offers More What's good for the pollinator may also be good for the soil, according to Almond Board of California-funded research related to cover crops. 1 In addition to providing forage and habitat for bees, cover crops may have the potential to provide other agronomic benefits, such as reducing compaction and improving nitrogen, water infiltration and water-holding capacity in soils. While growers like Kristofer Melgard and Samantha Lopes have successfully incorporated cover crops in and around their orchards, the proposition of planting something other than almonds in an orchard understandably raises questions for growers who have never tried the practice. What is the per-acre cost? Is additional irrigation required? What type of planting method is best? Will the cover crop divert honey bees away from the almond bloom? What impact will the cover crop have on harvest practices? Project Apis m. (PAm), one of the nation's leading honey bee health organizations, helps growers answer these questions (and many more) through an incentive program called Seeds for Bees ® . The program offers growers financial, technical and agronomic assistance for planting forage for honey bees at critical times of the year when natural forage is scarce. Growers who enroll in the program, such as Melgard and Lopes, are eligible for a $2,000 discount off their total seed purchase in year one, with a $1,000 discount the following year. Seed mixes are available throughout the year and shipping is always free for program enrollees. The Almond Board of California supports the program through its Bee+ Scholarship, allowing for more almond growers to access cover crop seed assistance. Cover crop impacts – from soil to canopy Turlock grower Kristofer Melgard experimented with cover crops two years ago on a 20-acre ranch he recently started leasing. "I looked into cover crops, not particularly with bees in mind, but more for building up organic matter and trying to make the soil healthier because it was rock-hard at this ranch," Melgard said. "When I went over there to get a lay of the land, I tried to take a soil sample to assess the nutrients and I almost needed a jackhammer to get six inches into the ground. That's when I realized that this place needed help." Melgard originally purchased his own seeds for a post-harvest planting of cover crops and was pleased with the results he saw the following spring. Then he heard about Seeds for Bees and the financial assistance it provides growers. "The person who planted the original cover crop told me about Seeds for Bees, so I called the PAm and they were really helpful and got me a really similar seed mix," Melgard recalled. "I'm already seeing improvements in the soil health and the ground is starting to loosen up a little bit." With two seasons of cover crop plantings behind him, Melgard is in it for the long term, with another cover crop already in the ground. "It's a good seed mix – radishes, peas, beans, maybe a rye and triticale," Melgard said. "That's what's really good about Seeds for Bees – they help you out with picking a good mix that fits your needs. We're trying to hold water in the ground after an irrigation, but the soil is really sandy out there – it just goes straight through. If we can get more organic matter in the ground and improve the water-holding capacity, then we can use less water in the long run." While soil improvement was the primary reason for planting cover crops, Melgard can't help but notice – and hear – the impact they have had on bee activity. "During the past two blooms it sounds like that orchard is going to just lift off the ground. The bee activity was insane!" 1 Sustainable Conservation, a nonprofit organization that promotes collaborative solutions to address the state's land, air and water challenges, has been a longtime collaborator with ABC. Learn more at See also PEST MANAGEMENT Cover crops between every other tree row in Farmland Management Services' orchards. 3

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