We are going to raise our hands in the air and say it loud and clear – we support the Bee Cause! Why? Because!
- Because bees are the quiet workers on the farm. Without their work to pollinate apple, cherry, pear and plum flowers we would not get to enjoy many of the fruits we love.
- Because we know they pollinate the flowers of other plants and are a crucial part of our ecosystem.
- Because we know that bee populations are threatened by genetic bottlenecks, new diseases and pests, and various chemicals.
We rent 40 hives every year to help pollinate our fruit blooms. They arrive sometime in early April after a long drive from the almond orchards of California. They stay until our last fruit blooms fade and then they are off to work other crops. We could keep our own hives, but that is full-time job in itself. I am content to have some one else worry about bee care while I take care of the trees themselves.
The interesting thing about fruit trees is that some are varieties are self fertile and some require cross pollination. A self fertile blossom can pollinate itself and bees are less important. Most peaches are self fertile, with the exception of one variety we grow, the JH Hale. Hales require the pollen of another variety on their flowers to set fruit, while the others are fine just hanging out with themselves. Some sweet cherries are self fertile, but many are not. Apples, pears, and plums require bees to move pollen from one variety to another for them to set fruit. We interplant different varieties of apples to make sure different pollens are easily available for the bees to move around. Likewise our plum varieties are intermixed for the same reason.
Despite our support of bees, we thought we might have to picket the hives this spring. You see, honeybees are prima donnas. They don’t want to work if it is too cold, too windy, not sunny enough, or any number of other factors. And this spring brought all those conditions – days of murky, rainy, cool weather while the fruit trees were in bloom. I would wander by the hives and they would be quiet with nary a soul stirring and going out to do their pollination work. That is when I started to think we were going to have to rally them with marches and motivational speeches.
Most years, the bees easily do their job and we don’t have to worry. In other years, pollination can make a difference in crop load. For example, in 2015, after our terrible night of frost, I went out and carefully looked at our apple blooms. Most were killed by the cold, but occasionally there was a blossom that had survived. The damage was sobering, but I thought we still might have enough blooms for a 20% crop. Then we had two weeks of murky, wet, cold weather. The bees holed up and by the time things warmed up the blooms were past. When I looked for that 20% crop, it wasn’t there. Why? I think those last remaining blooms that survived the frost didn’t get pollinated and did not set fruit.
This year we were having the same kind of wet, murky weather. Fortunately, there were windows of a few hours of sunny warmth and in those windows the bees got out and did their work. It looks like it was enough, but not perfect. On some fruits that were in full bloom in the worst of the murky weather, there are blooms that did not get pollinated and are now falling off. On the plums in this picture, the ones that are yellow or pale green were not pollinated and will soon be on the ground. Those that have green stems and are larger are the ones that were pollinated and will be the crop for this year. There are enough good ones for a full crop, but it illustrates how important those bees are to setting a crop.
This is also one reason I always hesitate to talk about what crop we have in the orchard until after the fruits actually start to grow and I know they are going to stick on the tree.
As I write this, our beekeeper just drove in to pick up the hives and take them off to other work. We are thankful for what they did do for us this year. To make sure that they are available in future years we are going to keep supporting the Bee Cause – because we depend on those hives and because we have lost so many wild bees to disease and environmental stress.
Get with the buzz and support efforts to help pollinators of all types. They contribute to our well being in so many unseen ways!