Archive for blossom thinning
Early Spring and cold, wet and windy weather can be a hard time for honey bees this time of year. They need pollen to feed the new larva and nectar for themselves. If their winter stores are used up, and if its too cold or wet out, they don’t get out. Last spring we lost a hive after they ran out of honey and it was too cold for them to forage, so they perished. Last Fall we didn’t take any honey off the hives and they have all seemed to come through the winter strong and buzzing. (As a result, we didn’t get any honey, depending on how much is left in the honey supers, we may get some this spring when it does warm up)
A few of the early flowers we have are crocus, anemone (Anemone blanda), Witch Hazel and Daphne.
Witch Hazels are the first blooms here. We have a few cultivars, the one pictured started blooming here in early February. (It is Hamamelis Japonica- Jelena, Copper Witch Hazel)
Which is way early for bees, but it continued through March and when the bees did get out they were all over it.
The Crocus’ are the next to bloom, the bees seem to really love these things. Sometimes there will be four or five bees in a single flower. They come up just after and sometimes through the snow.
The Anemone are another low growing, early blooming flower like the crocus are started with bulbs planted in the fall. And also like the crocus they spread on their own and make a beautiful early ground cover. Both are also low growing, which when its windy (a lot this time of year) is where the bees tend to fly. One close observation of the pic above you can see the pollen sac on the bees rear legs getting full. Good food for raising baby bees.
Daphne’s are another early flower which the bees seem to like, and the fragrance alone is worth planting these.
Honey bees aren’t the only insects that benefit from these early flowers, whatever natural and local pollinators are around will be happy to find any early pollen. And after a winter , most anyone will be pleased to see and smell these floral wonders.
Many trees, not just fruit trees will make a heavy fruit or seed crop one year and not so heavy or blank the following year. It takes a lot of energy to produce a crop that often the tree needs the next season off of fruit/seed production to recoup its reserves.
One of our spring chores is to thin the blossoms of the apples, they seem to be the main fruit we grow that benefits from this practice. Some varieties such as Gravenstein, Tydemans Early Red, Gingergold, Honeycrisp, Galas and others are particularly prone to biennial bearing.
Blossom thinning is a time intensive process and can be tedious and mind numbing after a few hours! But its also quite nice especially if its warm and the bees are buzzing and the sweet fragrance of apple blossoms fills the air. We mostly use our fingers to pluck the blossom cluster off, although sometimes we use our Felcos (hand pruners). My method is to consider each blossom cluster as a fruit, and thin the clusters about the same distance I would when I thin the small fruits in June, about six to eight inches apart. We can do the work by hand here because our place is small and apples aren’t the only thing we grow. Bigger conventional orchards use chemical thinners and organic growers generally use lime sulfur and fish oil during bloom. The idea is to kill off many, but not too many , blossoms to ensure a return bloom next year. Its tricky, you don’t want to do too good a job, because you never know what the rest of the spring will bring i.e a killing freeze ( this goes for hand and spray thinning).
We’ve had great success over the years with return bloom, even on notoriously difficult cultivars, but we do have a couple of varieties that don’t seem to respond to blossom thinning at all. Even though we also thin the fruit in June, the time is past when even heavy thinning then won’t bring a return bloom. It needs to be done in a timely manner just before to a week or two after full bloom.