My favourite reading snack these days is soy-covered almonds. They have lots of delicious umami flavour. Recently, I was surprised to learn that 80% of the world’s almonds are grown in a 600,000-acre section of California’s Central Valley. Since almonds need to be pollinated by honey bees (apini apis) and there is only nectar available in that area when almonds are in bloom, the bees need to be trucked in from elsewhere. Every February, more than a million hives – containing 40,000 bees – get trucked in. By 2005, it proved necessary to import a 747 full of bees from Australia for the ‘pollination event.’
The mutual exposure of those two distantly separated bee populations results in the exchange of microbes and parasites. Therein may lie the cause of the North American Colony Collapse Disorder outbreak that began in 2006. Honey bees are also used to pollinate peaches, soybeans, apples, pears, cherries, raspberries, blackberries, cranberries, watermelons, cantaloupes, cucumbers and strawberries. There are dozens of others, ranging from those that simply benefit from the availability of pollinating bees to those (such as squash and vanilla) where the bees are absolutely indispensable.