Feb 1 2014 – Olivarez Honey Bees

beesourcs logoI landed myself on the couch today missing the day on the ski hill with the family because I happen to come down with a bit of pneumonia.  I was able to catch up on the farm books and then spent some time on beesource talking to beekeepers on the list specifically about everything happening currently in Cali land.  Here is the basic jist from a contributor on the list:

“1. Record longest dry period during the rainy season (Nov-Mar), 52 days
2. Third driest Jan. in history (since 1850)
3. January precipitation 5% of normal
4. Highest average maximum temperature 66.1 degrees (normal average is 55.1)
5. New all-time record high temperature for January NEW (79 degrees)
6. Record number of days with high temperature of 70 degrees or higher.
7. Tied the record for consecutive days of high temperature 70 degrees or higher.
8. Record high temperature set on 12 different days in January
9. Every day in January 2014 the daytime high temperature was above normal for the month.

Jan 28, 2014 Exceptional to Extreme drought conditions covering central to northern California

Jan 28, 2014 Exceptional to Extreme drought conditions covering central to northern California

California is experiencing some of the hottest, driest weather it has seen in a very long time.  It’s a very serious issue for farmers as they are rationed off their allotted water reserves.  There are beekeepers starting to freak out as with no rain comes no forage and with no forage comes malnourished  honeybee hives.  This is where the California drought issue touches close to home.  I buy most of my queens from queen producers right in that northern California Sacramento area.  Here is a snip from a beesource member from the Solano, California area who is a queen breeder and regularly contributes to the list;

“The drought in California is seriously bad in relationship to bee health. Bad enough currently and with little hope of recovery I am to the point where I doubt we can bypass our usual attempts to defeat feed deficiencies especially in relationship to the process of raising queens and secondarily in the production of packages.”

These comments definitely caught my attention and as the discussion went on the impression I was left with was not good.  I’m in the position of spending $15000 on queens this year and I can’t afford to be left short or to be shipped poor quality queens.  The cost of poor queen performance can be a calculated cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential lost revenue.

queen_cells2With this information in hand and before I decide to switch suppliers out of the California area, I decided to contact one of my main California queen breeders, Ray Olivarez , owner of Olivarez Honey Bees (OHB) and speak directly with him about the current issues at hand and how they are planning to manage it.  These guys are no small time operators.  They employee 55 hired beekeepers, which help manage 12,000 hives to supply their package and queen bee operations located in the Sacramento area of California and on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Ray’s business partner also farms several thousand acres of almonds and walnuts which helps bring the business full circle.  So with all this in mind, as I sent my email I did not expect any type of serious response, as these guys are obviously busy placing hives in the almond groves as we speak.  What I got back was exactly the opposite, a prompt, well thought out email directly addressing my concerns and pretty much painting me a picture of their situation and how they intend on managing it.  Here is the email conversation I had with Ray Olivarez in regards to the current drought situation.


Hi Ray,

I order a large number of queens through BeeMaid honey every May.  I have been hearing reports of extreme dryness throughout California and I’m hearing concerns about this dryness affecting queen production.
Do you feel this drought is going to cause nourishment issues in your queens this season?  How are you planning on managing the issue?  
Thanks for your time
Ian Steppler
Miami MB
Hi Ian,
Yes it is extremely dry in California and we are in a major drought. One of the benefits of being in Northern California and I refer to the area above Sacramento, is that we still get rain. Now the amount of rain is not very much right now but as you know beekeepers need timely rain to propagate flowers. The area we are in is the watershed for all of California, the valley is narrow surrounded by foothills and then mountains. All of our queen mating yards are near the Sacramento River and where water runs there is always something blooming. Conditions are not perfect but they are better than the other ¾ of the state. The people who are going to suffer the most will be the farmers because the lack of irrigation water for their crops. The other thing that hurts is the ground water (below the surface) is not getting recharged. We have been dry for the last 6 years and this hurts the reservoirs (lakes and underground reservoirs) but as long as we get some rain we will get some flowers. What will hurt the Beekeepers the most is if the farmers can’t get water to plant their crops then there will be less to pollinate and that will hurt. Right now we are feeling our third round of supplemental pollen to our bees that are going into the Almonds (3 pound per round) and our hives are averaging around 10 to 12 frames of bees and 5 to 6 frames of brood (60-70 degrees) and we see drone brood between the supers already.
It will be a challenge for sure this year but this is not the first time. We put a lot of inputs into our bees and never let them stress, our annual loss each year runs around 5 to 8 percent, those losses are figured between September 1st and Feb 1st and we run around 12,000 hives. We cannot afford to have any high losses because so many people are depending on us to produce queens and package bees on a consistent basis year after year, we operate at a very highly (intensive) labor level. We have 35 full time employees and another 20 part time (8 months) during the queen season in CA. We also take the same steps in Hawaii to insure that we can fulfill our orders.
The question you asked is a good question and all I can tell you is that we are very pro –active and are thinking months ahead to build in some forgiveness.
Thank you,
Thanks for your prompt and detailed reply.  I’m spending a lot if money on queens and appreciate you taking the time to address my concerns.  
I look forward to buying in your queens this spring.  
Hope your weather improves 
Do you mind me sharing your email to others up here to help ease their minds on your current drought situation?

No, that would be fine. You know the mating is always the biggest issue as to the weather and drone saturation. One of our bright spots is the area we migrate to Montana for honey production, it is all dry land Alfalfa with clover and an abundance of pollen until it freezes in the fall. That has been the one of the keys for us with overwintering good bees is good summer and fall pollen. Good nutrition = lots of good bees=lots of drones= sometimes swarming if we can’t shake fast enough.
Good luck this year and please keep in touch.
So there you have it, customer relation at its finest.  He was prompt, he took the necessary time to address my concerns.  He laid out the situation and described how they were managing the issue.  He did not sugar coat anything, but made sure to address the issue at hand in a manner which left me feeling comfortable buying his stock this spring.  I’m not naive enough to put all my eggs in one basket as I typically buy from three or four suppliers to spread out risk and to help maintain as much genetic diversity I can within my operation.
...that would be me in my captains chair...

…that would be me in my office captains chair…


As far as I’m concerned, it’s steady as she goes Mr. Sulu !