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Krupp: New Pollination Practices

In the spring of 1969 I worked in the apple orchards at Scott Farm in Dummerston. And back then I’d never heard of climate change. Yet today, Zeke Goodband, the manager of Scott Farm is relying more on wild bees for pollination because they work in cooler temperatures and tolerate wind and wet weather. And Goodband says native bees seem more resilient and better able to deal with climate instability.

At the beginning of the blossom bloom, Goodband brings in about one hive of honey bees per acre. That’s about half the bees needed for the pollination of apples and other fruits at Scott Farm.

Unusually mild starts have caused Scott Farm’s 120 varieties of heirloom apple trees to break dormancy as much as a month ahead of historical patterns. Subsequent returns to normal cold or freezing temperatures damage apple buds and blossoms.

And in cold snaps, imported honey bees don’t do the job. Goodband likens their work ethic with that of typical teenagers – saying they “start work later in the day, stop earlier and seem to need near perfect conditions to really work.” To enhance the biodiversity of Scott Farm’s orchard ecosystem, Goodband has planted a plethora of wildflowers and a diverse array of fruit-bearing trees, shrubs and vines.

In Dedham, Maine, wild blueberry grower Gail VanWart has also discovered that long stretches of wet weather during spring pollination are an increasing problem. “Honey bees will not fly when it’s rainy, windy, or when the temperature drops below 50 degrees Fahrenheit,” she said. “Spring is when the bloom comes on the wild blueberries, and they have just a few weeks to be pollinated before the bloom falls off. Any blossom on the wild blueberry plant that does not get pollinated will not become a blueberry” she concludes.

VanWart has also switched to more reliable native pollinators, and planted native wildflowers that bloom at different times to provide nectar/pollen for the wild bees. Since making the switch, VanWart has seen increased pollination and, thus, increased yields. She says attracting native wild bees is far less costly than keeping honey bees, especially in a northern climate where imported bees have a hard time overwintering.”

So all in all, it’s been a boon for Gail VanWart and Zeke Goodband to go “native.”

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay. His most recent book is titled: Lifting The Yoke - Local Solutions To America's Farm And Food Crisis.
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