The peaches and nectarines are pollinated to the brim this year. We’ve been coming up with theories about why the pollination seems to increase each year. The nearby honeybees aren’t doing so well – each year their populations seem to dwindle, perhaps because of the Paraquat that gets sprayed on the conventional walnuts across the way. But maybe the native bees are increasing in population since there is less competition with the honey bees? Xerces says here (http://www.xerces.org/wp-content/uploads/2008/11/farming_for_bees_guidelines_xerces_society.pdf) that many native bees have a much shorter range, which can be as low as 50 ft. My small 4 acre organic, no-till orchard might be the perfect habitat for native bees. We see many more of the tiny, small native bees versus the honeybees at bloom, so maybe they are helping out!
However, peaches don’t need to be pollinated by bees to set – self-pollination can occur for the most part in peaches, nectarines and apricots. Our current theory is that our amazing fruit set this year is mainly due to the temperature during bloom this year. While the chilling hours were actually lower than many previous years, we had an amazing amount of flowers on our trees this year, especially the nectarines. I’m not sure why we had more flowers – maybe the rain after the drought stimulated a large bloom? But then the temperatures during bloom were an average 70 deg F, pretty close to the optimum temp for self-pollination of 68 deg F.
Of course, the high pollination rates aren’t all good news. Each mature fruit would be tiny if we didn’t remove most of the fruit at this stage, a process called thinning. The apricots only take ½ an hour to thin, but the peaches and nectarines are going to take about an hour each to thin. I was taking off 90-95% of the fruit of the nectarines I was thinning today. That meant I took off 15 fruits for every fruit I left, leaving a carpet of nectarine pebbles on the ground.
I like to think of the fruit trees sighing in relief after I thin their branches, as if I had just removed about 600 bags of produce they were carrying on their arms as they made their way out of the store. We’re racing to make it by the time the pits harden – if we can thin all the fruits by then, we’ll have big beautiful peaches this year. Wish us luck – you’ll know if we made it when you see the size of our fruit this year!
This is Mousse tired on the way home from a long day of thinning 🙂