Apple grower explores pollination in the orchard

Generally speaking, apple trees need one another.

There are a few which are able to self-pollinate, but these are rare.

The same variety cannot pollinate another of the same variety.

This is why companion trees blooming at the same, or approximate, time are planted nearby.

Synchronous blooms assures pollen is available to fertilize the other varieties of apple.

The apple genome

Apples and humans are heterozygotic.

Apples are more complex, genetically, than humans.

Apple pollen provides 17 chromosomes, the apples ovum 17, with a 57,000 genome count.

The human chromosome and genome count is 46 and 30,000, respectively. Both are diploids.

When apples are cross pollinated, occasionally nature combines three and four strands of chromosomes.

The blossoms of triploid and tetraploid apples are sterile and require the pollen from two different diploids in order to pollinate the blossoms.

The Mutsu, known as the Crispin in the United States, is a triploid.

It was bred in Japan and introduced there in 1937. It was introduced to North America in 1948.

The actual cross pollination, probably, took place 20 years earlier crossing the pollen of a Golden Delicious (M) with the ovum of an Indo (F).

The fruit it produces is enormous, which is why you would want to plant a Mutsu / Crispin, or any other triploid, or tetraploid, apple tree in your orchard.

Sterile trees do tend to be biennial bearing, producing every other year, but with two other diploid trees nearby, you have trees that will bearing annually.

Apple pollinators

So, its late mid-spring. Sunrise and sunset are further and further apart.

Ideally, the weather is warmer. More often than not, the weather is on the cool side, rainy, maybe misty.

The European honey bee is not native. Since it did not evolve here it is not particularly well suited to our environment.

Honeybees do not fly in cool, wet, weather conditions. If we relied on them to pollinate the orchard, there would be a poor harvest.

Fortunately, there are very capable native bees which will work rain, or shine.

Introducing the Blue Orchard Mason Bee - Osmia lingaria

Sometimes just called BOB, for Blue Mason Bee, is a very busy bee.

It is native and will work in the cool, wet late April - early May conditions. They are solitary. Males and females live apart, but nearby.

Mason bees live in the tiny holes of rotting trees and fence posts emerging in spring first mating, then pollinating apple blossoms.

The fertilized females gather pollen to for the next generation of emerging larvae to eat. Each tunnel is long enough for the deposit of five to eight eggs with the furthest being an egg which will be a female.

Biologists believe this is nature’s way of assuring there will always be females to perpetuate the species and, that if the mud plugged entrance is breached, that the loss of a male, or two, or three, is an acceptable loss.

The life span of a mason bee is four to six weeks, so they are very busy and very efficient.

A gang of 40 would easily pollinate a small orchard of a dozen trees. When they land on an apple blossom, there is a 99.7 percent likelihood that the bloom will develop into fruit.

Mason bees pollinate differently than the European honeybee. Masons collect pollen from the stigma on their abdomen. The collected pollen is simultaneously deposited on the anther each time they alight on a blossom.

Honeybees harvest nectar, which is down in the blossom.

Pollen is collected on their legs. While in the process of collecting nectar, honeybees will sometimes nip the ovum, which means that even if it had been fertilized, there will be no viable fruit.

So, relying on European honeybees to pollinate your orchard is not a good pollination strategy.

Next generation honeybees

Biologists are harvesting bee sperm and hand fertilizing virgin queens. The very thought is amazing. The procedure pictures in the March 15, 2020 edition of Good Fruit Grower are beekeeper porn. Look for yourself.

The point of all this is that European honeybees don’t always get the job done. Although they are not efficient for pollinating orchards, others of their species are, which is why man has a hand in the creative process.

And, since the U.S. has not allowed European bees to be imported since 1929, the only way to cross bread bees is to collect the sperm and do it by hand.

The traits of the donor pass to the offspring of the queens. The trait orchardists are most interest in is the ability to pollinate fruit.

The most efficient fruit pollinators are located in the regions where fruits evolved - in the Tien Shan mountains of Kazakhstan.

The pomonella species of bee was identified 17 years ago. The trait bee breeders hope to correct in honeybees is nipping the ovum.

Apiologists, people who study bees, think a hybrid is a natural for the apple orchard since they evolved side-by-side over the past two million years.

Peter Montgomery is owner of Montgomery Gardens, Heirloom Apples and Orchards at 45 Kent Road in Warren, where he manages a mixed fruit orchard, consults, designs and installs orchards throughout New England.