If you’ve ever seen a ton of bees clustered on an apple tree, flitting from blossom to blossom, you are getting a sneak peek at the way in which bees and apple trees work together to produce one of nature’s greatest gifts (apple cider, of course!) This mutually beneficial arrangement is perfect for both the bees and the trees, and without it we wouldn’t be able to enjoy biting into a crisp fall apple, or savouring a glass of apple cider year-round.
On our farm we’ve historically kept bees, but lost all of our hives last winter so for the moment we are fresh out of bees (and honey, unfortunately). When you have apple trees, keeping bees is the best way of ensuring a bumper crop, because apple blossoms are one of the first flowers to bloom after winter, and an important source of nectar for bees. Since we source our apples from wild trees it’s even more important to have a good pollinator on hand since the bees need to find the apple trees in the forest instead of having neat rows to access. Sometimes there are so many bees pollinating apple blossoms the whole tree seems to buzz.
Apple blossoms bloom in Lanark County in early spring, typically sometime in May and June, and each flower you see on an apple tree must be pollinated for that flower to turn into an apple. It’s a beautiful time on the farm, with apple blossom petals drifting to the ground to create a pink and white blanket. This is also a dangerous time for the apple blossom – a frost of any kind can damage the flower before the bees have a chance to pollinate it. This would mean no apple from that blossom.
Bees are attracted to the colour and smell of apple blossoms, and fly from flower to flower looking for nectar to turn into honey. As they move from flower to flower gathering nectar, pollen from a stamen sticks to the hair on their bodies and legs and is carried to the next flower’s pistil. It is this movement of pollen from flower to flower that is pollination. Once a flower is pollinated, an apple will grow!
It’s awesome to watch this magical dance take place each year – the flowers welcoming the bees, and the bees helping along the flowers. Symbiosis at its best!