On a cool January day in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Steve Ellis culled his sick bees. The only sounds were their steady buzz and the chuffing of the smoker he used to keep them calm as he opened the hives, one by one, to see how many had survived. The painful chore has become an annual ritual for Ellis, and, hardened now like a medic on the front lines, he crowned another box with a big rock to mark it.
“This one is G.A.D.,” he said. “Good as dead.”
Ellis, of Barrett, Minn., is one of some 1,300 commercial beekeepers from across the United States who migrate to California each year, along with nearly 2 million hives, for the single largest pollination event in the world. Below him in the sprawling valley, nearly 1,400 square miles of almond trees — three-fourths of the global supply — were ready to burst out into a frothy sea of pink and white. To grow into a nut, every single blossom would need at least one American honeybee.