Richard's Rambling May 19th - Pollination

It’s apple blossom season, one of my favourite times of year. If you are reading this on a warm sunny afternoon and you have a blossoming tree outside then stop reading immediately and go outside to look at the tree. Why on earth you would want to sit looking at a computer screen when you could be outside under your tree I’ve no idea. I suppose there is not necessarily any need to lie under your tree (though that is my preferred position) but lying, standing or sitting give yourself the opportunity to have a moment of pure “hujjwon”.

 Not only do you have the sight and scent of the blossom on your tree but you have a David Attenborough like experience with all the flying insects going in and out of the flowers. The insects are performing the essential task of pollinating the flowers to give us a fruit crop. By lying under my trees and watching the insects coming and going (I call it research) I get a pretty good idea of which insects are moving the pollen around for me. Interestingly honey bees are relatively unimportant (in my orchard anyway) with bumble bees and a range of smaller wild bees and wasps busily flying in and out the flowers. Honey bees would be very important in the ecological desserts of a Californian or Chinese fruit plantation but I maintain a lot of natural vegetation (some people know these as weeds) in and around my trees so there are plenty of wild insects to do the job. There is a strange oft quoted “fact” about honey bees (occasionally attributed to Einstein) that we would all starve within 3 or 6 or 9 months if honey bees died out and weren’t pollinating crops any more. This is complete testicles, all grain crops are wind pollinated and tubers like potatoes are vegetatively propagated and, in my experience, they are relatively unimportant in most organic orchards. Though before I get angry emails from bee keepers I think bees are fascinating things and nobody enjoys a bit of honey on their bread more than me, it’s just that they are not essential to civilisation as we know it.   

There is a lot of horticultural b******t written about pollination in trees with new gardeners being confused with talk of “pollination groups” and a variety of other terminology. Essentially most apples, pears plums etc. don’t like doing it with themselves (unlike some T.V. critics) and there is a need to have two varieties planted to cross pollinate each other. The flowers have to be open at the same time for this to work (this is what pollination group means) and with apples you have early, mid- season and late flowering varieties. If you are only planting one tree of a particular type of fruit tree then you need to get a self- fertile variety. If you’ve read this to the end I assume that you haven’t got any fruit trees to look at, if this is the case then you are very welcome to join me for the next gardening course on Saturday 26th May- and you can look at mine.  

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  • Hanora B on

    Richard, your writing is so good that I don’t mind anymore that the few blossoms on my first tree disappeared before the second one flowered. Both are babies really: they arrived as bareroots 2/3 years ago.

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