bees

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One of the highlights of our season has been our annual apple pressing. It usually takes place in early October and has become a local favorite, especially for kids who love to help turn apples into cider. Folks generally bring their own apples and apple dishes, and we provide the hand press, some apple nibbles and plenty of music, plus a bunch of our own fruit.

Not this year though.

In addition to being the Summer That Wasn’t we also lost another critical piece of weather this season. Usually, just about the time the apple blossoms flower in the spring, we get a stretch of nice weather. During that weather window pollinators–bees–stream into the orchard and the place comes alive with busy insects.

To get apples those bees must shift pollen from the stamen of one type of apple blossom to the pistil of another. They do it by tracking pollen from flower to flower as they flit around gathering honey. It’s elementary biology and the equation is pretty simple: spring sunshine + bees + apple blossoms=apples in the fall.

We could elaborate at length on this but the New York Times did a nice job in this recent story on pollinators.

It sounds like the East Coast had plenty of pollination this year, but here in the Northwest everything fell out of sync. Instead of sunshine, it was cold and rainy during apple blossom time. The bees don’t fly in that weather, so they stayed home. The blossoms came and went, many unpollinated, and now only about a third of our trees are bearing fruit.

Take a walk through the orchard now and it is feast:

 Or famine.

 The Spartans, Fiestas and Empires did just fine. Our Tomkins County Kings–a staple here in most years–were a bust.

Like so many things on a farm, it’s a delicate dance. When the timing works the results can be very satisfying. Our Japanese plums, for example, caught the flower/bee cycle just right and they fruited like gangbusters this year. The European Plum trees next door flowered a bit early and bore no fruit at all. Our cherry trees were so bare of fruit that Louisa didn’t even bother netting them, leaving the handful of ripening cherries for the birds,

So it goes. We’ve had a few apple pies this fall, but we’ll miss the homemade cider. And, even more, we’ll miss our friends and neighbors and the whole ceremony of making cider.

Better luck next year.

Persephone

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