Most of the something like 150,000 colonies, which are moved onto almond orchards there in August, normally overwinter in the warmer than the rest of Victoria Mallee to be in good condition for the upcoming task. “Ideally they’ll be placed on a north facing, dry and warm sandy bank,” David said.
Canola is the next big pollination thing – “one of the best” - for beekeepers and bees, after almonds. Adequate honey bees will see a canola crop yield 15% more oil than crops relying on native bees, David said. Going rates to hire hives is $110 a hive for almonds and $100 for canola.
There are about 4000 public land bee sites around Victoria although this number was only the result of quite strenuous renegotiations with the Victorian government in 2013.
David said clear fell tree harvesting by Vic Forests, loss of annual flowering plants, mono cultures, loss of weeds and use of herbicides in gardens and on farms, were significantly depleting pollination opportunities for honey bees.
David particularly named neonicotinoid insecticides as particularly threatening bee numbers. “Gaucho is the main one used on farms but garden use [of herbicides] to destroy weeds is practically as bad”.
In a nominal six week lifetime, one honey bee will produce about 5mls or a teaspoon full of honey. Of that time she will spend about three weeks in the hive and three weeks foraging up to 10km from the hive. In an hour she will typically travel 20km.
David said he had a closed bee breeding population. He selects the 10 best daughters from a hive and artificially inseminates them to superior but unrelated males to maintain genetic variation.
In Western Australia, the best colonies and drones are annually taken to Rottnest Island off Fremantle, where they can be bred remote from interlopers.