Archive for pollination

Early Flowers for Bees

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm, honey bees, organic farming with tags , , , on April 17, 2011 by Grouse Mt. Farm

Witch Hazel blooming in early February(!) on through March


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.

early flowers: Crocus


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.

Anemone blanda


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.

Anemones spread easily, from bulbs


Daphne’s are another early flower which the bees seem to like, and the fragrance alone is worth planting these.

Daphne in bloom


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.

Kiwi Bloom

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm, organic fruit with tags , , on June 23, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm


The Kiwis are almost finished blooming. They’re one of the latest blooming, fruit producing perennials we have. A wonderful fragrance accompanies the display, and the bees seem to love them. As has been the case all spring, it has been wet and cool (last few days are warming up) which limits the bees flying time and thus pollination. The pics are the female vines, kiwis need a male plant among the fruit producing females to make fruit. These are Actinidia Arguta.

Thinning

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm, organic farming, organic fruit with tags , , , , on June 18, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm

June is when we thin the fruit on the trees here in North Central Washington. You can pretty much tell which fruits will drop and which will stay ( I mentioned June drop in a previous post).
Even a week or two ago it was hard to tell which fruits would mature but now there no mistaking them. The pics below show a plum limb as was and then just after it was shook to knock off the ‘June drops’


This plum variety (Santa Rosa) is set very heavy, as is usual for these trees of ours, amazingly year after year. ( Most of our other plums don’t have much fruit on them this year, as a result of poor pollination) So there is still much thinning to do on it, to space out the fruit so they’ll size up to a desired proportions. Its too easy to under thin, I usually have rule of thumb or hand and try to go about 6 to 8 inches between fruits (do the Hawaiian hang loose sign, basically the space from thumb to pinkie). Its always difficult to tell when the fruits is so small, I try to imagine what it would look like with full size pome hanging there, to gauge my progress. Every year I tell myself “make sure & take enough off”, and I think I do but when I come back to pick I wonder if its even been thinned. So I’m resolved this year to thin everything twice to make sure theres less I miss. I usually do a fair job, but there are always clusters that are missed and fruit invariably under thinned.

nectarine before


and after thinning


When a tree has a heavy fruit set, probably 95% of the fruit gets thinned off, so its a bit disconcerting to see all the fruit on the ground. But if it wasn’t done you would end up with loads of real small (marbles) fruit.

any fruit?

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm with tags , , , , on May 30, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm

We’re beginning to be able to see how much fruit there will potentially be. It takes a few weeks after bloom to see which fruits will drop and which will become fruit. June is when that process finishes. Its been unseasonably wet and cool the last few weeks, in fact most of May (and April come to think of it!), which made for terrible pollinating weather. And the trees and fruit are growing slowly without the warmth. But so far from our approximation; not many cherries or pears, a few varieties of plums are mostly blank, and still a bit early to tell on apples. The peaches look pretty good and a couple of apricot trees look great ( they bloomed during a brief warm spell)

a typical scene in the trees, only a few flowers were successfully pollinated (the bigger green ones)


Its discouraging to see all the fruit there isn’t, but we’ll have to wait and see for sure after the June drop. It seems like it always some version of this, the weather having its way with us!
Once again its so good to have a mix of fruits to help insure we’ll get some harvest.

Honey Bees

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm with tags , , on May 16, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm


Liz and I have been keeping bees for 25 years, and we still enjoy it as much now as when we started. Of course its great to harvest the honey and the pollination service they provide would be hard to do with out, but we just like having them around. The last few years have been difficult keeping hives going through the winter, we’ve lost a few. With the varroa mite and more recently colony collapse is taking its toll on many apiaries. We lost a hive (we had three) this last winter, but it was because of our own neglect. With the warm winter we had the bees are more active and as a result they eat more (stored honey), early on we should have fed them (late winter, early spring) but we didn’t and they starved. Our other two hives did and are doing great.

Liz with swarm


One hive was doing so well it swarmed! Swarming happens when a hive gets so crowded the bees make another queen and leave the hive with the old queen to start another colony, en mass. A truly amazing spectacle to behold, thousands of bees all clustered together around their queen. Luckily I happened on to them in a timely fashion and we were able to capture the swarm in a waiting hive body. This was last week and they seem to be doing well.
We have three hives again, thanks bees!

honey bee swarm

Blossom thinning

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm with tags , , , , , , on May 8, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm

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.

before and after blossom thinning

cold cold cold and windy

Posted in Grouse Mt. Farm with tags , , on May 5, 2010 by Grouse Mt. Farm


Its been cold and windy for the last two weeks, seems like the bees have been out a little but not much. The pears and apples are coming in to their bloom period with the soft fruits blooms pretty much done. As always this time of year, we’re hoping it all works!

plum trees