Keep bees resident in your orchard for pollinating your blossoms in spring by planting flowers that attract the native wild bees. It is best not to have competing flowers (especially dandelions) blooming during apple blossom time, so choose flowers that finish their bloom before apple blossoms open or don't start blooming until after the apple blossoms fall. The author has experienced this competition with gooseberries which have blossoms that may overlap the early apple blossoms. The honey bees will start visiting the gooseberries and when the apple blossoms open they will ignore them until the gooseberries have dropped their blossoms. Choose several varieties of shrubs and flowers that will extend the blooming season right through the summer into the fall. In the author's area lilacs are a good choice for a bush that blooms right after the apple blossoms fall. Check with your local nursery for blooming periods of flowers and bushes, or observe people's garden's in your area.
You can rent honeybee colonies in hives from bee keepers. You will need one colony of 20,000 to 30,000 bees to the acre. To be sure you have been given that many bees count the number of bees leaving the hive on a warm, sunny, calm day around mid day (honeybees don't fly much if the temperature drops below 65 degrees F). There should be about 60 bees a minute leaving the hive.
However, honeybees are fast disappearing in many regions as a result of two parasitic mites which infest the bees, the tracheal mite and the varroa mite. In some areas over 90% of the honeybee population has been wiped out. A product, Apistan, has been used for control but the mites are now showing resistance to it. Some success at mite control has been reported with an essential oil called Tea tree Oil. Research is in progress at institutions around the world to address the mite problem. Hygienic bees which are used for cleaning out various types of infections in colonies may be bred to remove bees with mite infections. There is a species of honeybee which was developed in England which is reputed as being "resistant" to tracheal mites. This bee was developed by Brother Adam at Buckfast Abbey. A picture of his grave site at Buckfast Abbey is available on the internet plus a list of all licensed breeders of Buckfast Bees around the world (see web links below). The Buckfast Bee has been available in the U.S. since the 1960's from Weaver Apiaries Inc. Their internet web page is also listed below. For some uncertain reason the mite problem has never become very serious in New Brunswick. Perhaps it is because it was one of the first provinces in Canada to get them and the apiarists have developed effective methods for controlling them.
You don't need anything as complicated and labour intensive as honeybee hives. You can build up your own native bee populations including leafcutting bees, mining bees, hornfaced bees, sweat bees, plasterer bees and many other species. Two species of wild bees, the mason bee and the bumblebee are not harmed by mites and are being used more and more as alternative pollinators. Mason Bees make their nests in the ground or in cavities in bark, wood piles, and shingled siding on sheds and homes. Bumblebees make their nests in abandoned mice or bird nests where they make use of the nesting material for insulation.
Special wooden nesting blocks or boxes can be purchased to encourage mason bees and bumblebees. Here are just a few sources listed in the suppliers section of the CD-ROM:
Natural Insect Control
The fertilization process in plants which involves uniting pollen (plant sperm) with the plant ovary is called pollinization. The plant or tree that provides compatible pollen to another variety is a pollinizer. The carrying of pollen by insects, birds or breezes from the anthers to the stigmas of flowers is called pollination.
Pollinization is essential to produce fruit from the blossoms and fruit specialists advise that poor pollinization results in fewer, smaller, deformed fruit. The more that bees and other pollinating insects visit the blossoms the better the chances for well developed fruit. Wet, cold springs can result in poor pollinization.
The number of seeds in an apple is a determinant. An apple has five seed pockets in a star shape which can be observed if you cut it in half across the middle. Each seed pocket can hold two seeds. The more seeds there are, the larger and better shaped the apples will be. Apples which are deformed, or smaller on one side, usually have no seeds or tiny, shrivelled seeds on that side. The largest apples have more than 7 seeds. The size and number of seeds has to do with pollinization which releases the necessary chemicals which promote fruit growth. If all seeds are pollinized they will grow and produce a well rounded apple. If some seeds don't get pollinized the apple may be shrunken on that side, it will not store as long and it may stay starchy and lack flavour and sweetness.
The author knows of a small orchard in New Brunswick which has several trees of a seedless variety. The trees bear apples which never have seeds yet they are always medium to large, uniform shaped apples. Fruit specialists speculate that the apples had immature seeds which aborted early in development and then shrunk and dried to the point of being non existent. This is not unique as some other varieties such as Roxbury Russet quite often have very few or no seeds at all.
The seeds in an apple influence the intake of calcium which keeps the apple firm and crisp longer in storage. The more seeds, the more calcium is distributed within the apple's flesh (see Apple Basics).
Honeybees fly from blossom to blossom carrying pollen with them as they go. Although they are not as efficient at pollinating each time they make their brief visit as other species are, they will visit many blossoms and so improve the odds of exchanging pollen from genetically different parents. Other bees such as mason bees spend more time per blossom, doing a much more efficient job, but they may not visit it as many times.
The majority of apple varieties require compatible pollen from another variety which is referred to as the pollinizer. It is best to plant several varieties or even a flowering crab to ensure cross pollinization if there aren't any orchards nearby. Another solution is to graft other varieties onto the same tree. You can also cut some branches from trees in other orchards which are in blossom and bring them to your Kitchen Orchard. Put them in a pail of water and hang them nearby your own tree(s). Of course you will need permission from the owner of the other trees.
It is also important, when selecting varieties for pollinizing, that they have the same bloom period or they won't be able to cross pollinate. Generally there is enough overlap that this is not a problem.
Some trees are triploids and have sterile pollen.
Sports or strains of an apple variety will not effectively pollinize other sports of the same variety. For example, Van Buren Red Duchess would be a poor pollinizer for regular Duchess of Oldenburg. Redcort would not be a good pollinizer for Cortland.
1. The Pollinators Home Page
2. Excellent bee site, "All about bees"
3. Knox Cellars Publishing Company offers Brian L. Griffin's book, The Orchard Mason Bee, as well as nesting kits for both mason bees and bumble bees.
4. BeeScent product not effective (AOL)
5. "The Flowering Crisis," Britannica On-Line
6. "Growers bee-moan shortage of pollinators," Science News On-Line
7. Pesticide impact on beneficial organisms, IPM Topics.
8. Pest Management at the Crossroads, publication.
9. Weaver Apiaries Inc., breeder of tracheal resistant Buckfast Bees
10. Community of licensed Buckfast Bee keepers around the world
11. Bees and Wasps, numerous sites listed on the "Pestweb"
12. BOOK ORDER: "The Forgotten Pollinators", from Island Press
13. Forgotten Pollinators Web Article: Ten Essential Reasons to Protect the Birds and Bees - How an impending POLLINATION CRISIS threatens plants and the food on your table.
14. Forgotten Pollinators Web Article: Partners in Production - How to work with pollinators to improve your harvest.
15. Forgotten Pollinators Campaign
16. The Amazing Bee Camera
17. Annual Tisdale Honey Festival and Bee Beard Competition, Tisdale Saskatchewan
18. The distinction between a "pollinator" and a "pollinizer"
19. Example of "pollinator" and "pollinizer" terms used in article by R. D. Fell
20. Management of Hornfaced Bees as pollinators for apples, with nest box diagrams, West Virginia University
21. Beekeeping Home Page - all kinds of valuable information - events, jokes, trivia.