Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Fruit Trees in Bloom

Wild plum trees are the first white-blooming trees seen in the forest in the early spring. The white blossoms of plums and pear trees often mark abandoned pioneer home sites. These are the first of a number of flowering fruit trees to bloom in the Mid-South. Their bloom is an important milestone on the beekeeper’s calendar. With the start of the fruit tree bloom, beekeepers expect to find prolific expansion of the bee colonies. Abundant nectar and pollen from plum, pear, apple, peach, cherry, and crabapple blossoms along with other emerging wildflowers stimulates the queens to lay eggs. Many of these fruit trees rely upon honey bees to cross-pollinate the blossoms with pollen from similar tree varieties to produce fruit. The peach, as in today’s photo, is an exception. Most peach varieties are self-fruitful; they produce fruit without the assistance of honey bees. This is fortunate today, as cool weather keeps the bees in their hives. The peach tree I find today, growing on an old farmstead, has no bee visitors. Early spring weather in the Mid-South is often unsettled. Effective pollination of fruit trees may be limited by cool or rainy days that prevent bees from flying.

The New York Times reports honey bee colony losses in 2012 at 40 to 50 percent, an increase over recent years. See Colony losses at this level seriously affect commercial beekeeping and fruit production. The majority of honey bee colonies in North America are used for crop pollination service. Many beekeepers suspect the systemic neonicotinoid insecticides in widespread use to control insect pests on crops as contributing to honey bee colony losses. The insecticide manufactures deny that their products are responsible for the bee die-off. Independent testing will be necessary to prove the safety of this new class of insecticides. Further study is also needed to determine the effect on bee health resulting from the interaction between the many environmental chemicals from pesticides to herbicides to fungicides encountered by foraging honey bees.