No bees showed up to pollinate our apple blossoms this past week. We moved back to the family farm in south central Minnesota six years ago and my wife has planted a small apple orchard. It's 24 trees, so it's for personal use not commercial.
We've also planted red and black raspberries and strawberries. These fruits have been part of this family farm for more than a century. There's always been fruit and flower diversity on the farm to attract the bees, but the bees are not around this spring, which is the first time this has happened. For fifty years this farm had a small commercial strawberry operation and in the country the bees would always find the fruit blossoms. That's just the way nature works.
Last week our apple trees blossomed. We both spent most of the week outside during the daylight hours and in close proximity to the blooming trees. One time I saw one honeybee and the next day I saw two bees. My wife saw two bees one time. Normally you might expect to see scores of bees or more in the orchard when the trees are blossoming.
One frustration for my wife is that for the first time in six years her prize honey crisp apple trees bloomed. If you've had a honey crisp apple, then you know why they are prized. She cut the branch off of one tree, and swished it over the blossoms of other trees so maybe we will get some apples.
I have been a fastidious red and black raspberry picker. Our fall red raspberry patch reached maturity a couple of years ago. I'd spend my fall afternoons in the company of scores of honeybees who were purposefully buzzing between the brambles collecting nectar and pollinating the blossoms, while I picked the fruits of their labor. They paid no attention to me, and I enjoyed their company.
We had an early frost two years ago and I covered the berries one night to keep the season going. When I got outside the next morning the sheets were covered with honeybees ready to go to work.
Last year the honeybees were a no show at berry picking time, but the bumblebees buzzed the patch and kept the harvest going. Now the bumblebees were a no show during the apple blossom period.
Just an anecdotal observation for sure, but seeing no bees is something my wife can't recall ever happening before.
Late in the afternoon one day last week one of our farmer neighbors drove over and just gave us a heads up because the farm service company was going to spread the pre-emergent herbicide in the field across the road from us. He just wanted to let us know, this was happening. Midsummer it will be the insecticides that get sprayed on the soybeans by buzzing crop dusters who will be spraying that poison for weeks. That chemical spreading is just modern agriculture practice in farm country.
Colony collapse disorder has come to south central Minnesota? The ag chemical industry would say that we need to study that problem before we make any decisions. They say that we don't want to be rash about these things.
Meanwhile, what we know is we have no bees visiting us and the strawberries are starting to blossom.
Tue May 27, 2014 at 8:05 AM PT: Good to see so many people aware of this crisis. A couple of more details on our place. We've got a 9+ acre grove of mature trees (my father-in-law heated with wood till the 1980s) so we have a tremendous habitat for bees and other pollinators. We've got hundreds (maybe thousands) of flowers and flowering plants that bloom throughout the growing season. We've got water for insects as an old stock pond is nearby. Thanks for all the tips and ideas. We will be looking into mason bees, though I won't become a bee keeper or pollinate by hand. We've got a large garden too with hundreds of flowering veggie seedlings, so that's just too much to pollinate by hand. We will see how the growing season turns out.