Spring is nearly here, which means that our many peach and pear orchards will soon be blossoming, on their way to producing sweet and delicious fruit in the summer and fall. However, there’s an important step that has to take place before the trees will bear fruit: pollination.
Each year, Harry & David contracts to bring beehives into our orchards, which ensures that our trees are optimally pollinated. We recently asked Brad Sims, one of our expert horticulturalists, a few questions about the process.
Q. For those who don’t know, what purpose do the bees serve in our orchards?
A. Bees play a vital role in the pollination of our peach and pear trees. The process of pollination fertilizes the blossoms in our orchards, enabling the trees to produce fruit each year.
Q. How do bees pollinate flowers?
A. The bees fly from flower to flower to feed on the sweet nectar in the blossoms. Pollen sticks to the bees’ bodies and is transferred from one flower to another, thereby completing the fertilization cycle.
Q. How does the business of renting beehives work?
A. We work with two beekeepers in the Rogue Valley, contracting the use of their bees on a per-hive cost basis. The bees we’re using have actually just been down to California to pollinate almond trees.
Q. When do we bring them into the orchards? How long do they stay?
A.The hives are placed in the orchards when five to ten percent of the flowers are in bloom, and they remain throughout the entire blooming stage, which usually lasts two to three weeks.
Q. How much area can a single beehive cover? Over the course of the summer, how many bees will we bring in?
A. Each hive can usually pollinate around an acre of orchard, so we end up using a total of approximately 1,400 hives for all of our orchards.
Q. Are there any special or unique tools for handling or working with the bees?
A. We don’t handle the beehives ourselves, but individual beekeepers may use special suits for personal protection. The bees will go wherever there is a food source (flowers), and we try to place them strategically throughout the orchards so that the entire orchard is well pollinated. The trick is to not disturb the bees—no disruptive activity around the hives and no spraying while the bees are present.
Q. Is there anything else unusual or interesting about the process?
A. Sometimes bears can’t resist the sweet smell of honey coming from the rented hives. In the past, we’ve occasionally had hive damage, but we’ve learned, which has resulted in us elevating the hives on metal racks to keep them out of reach.
Q: Thanks, Brad, for taking time out of your …ahem… buzzzzy schedule to talk with us.
A: You’re welcome.