Friday, April 8, 2016

Baby Bees & Trees

Blog entry by Shayla Carey
Don with rootstocks awaiting grafting
Last week, with the help of Don Zeigler, co-founder of the Backyard Fruit Growers, Landis Valley welcomed 150 baby bees and 20 new baby trees to its horticultural family.

It was an easy delivery:  Don grafted 20 scion wood to rootstock and farm manager Joe Schott attached two new bee boxes to fence posts in the herb garden and behind the Heirloom Seed House.  Don and Joe then inserted tubes filled with mason bee eggs into the boxes.  After that, the waiting began...

What will be exciting is watching the new additions grow.

The moment of truth:
when scion meets rootstock
While we do not grow the apples to sell, we do grow them to keep the genetics going, which is a core mission of the Heirloom Seed Project.  Some of the apple scions (living twigs from mature trees) are from existing trees on Landis Valley property, which are getting rather old and will need to be removed within a few years.  15 others are heritage varieties from the Backyard Fruit Growers’ woodbank, a collection of fruit trees grown by BYFG members that are shared among them.  Our new orchard is currently residing in buckets outside of the greenhouses, but will be permanently located towards the rear of the site and, once they are planted, visitors who wander to the Collections Gallery or to the Maple Grove Schoolhouse can hike a little further up the old Kissel Hill Road and see them.  Honeybees, which are in danger of decline due to CCD, will join the site in April and will eventually assist the mason bees in pollinating the new orchard.  The apples will be used for demonstration purposes.

In a few weeks, the mason bees will emerge from the holes in the boxes (pictured at right), pollinating various plants around the site.  They hatch about 3-4 weeks before honeybees do and they will die at the end of the year after laying more eggs in the boxes in August.  Because of their short lifespan, they do not produce honey, but they are prolific pollinators.  They do not form colonies, so are not subject to colony collapse disorder (CCD).  They are smaller than honeybees, are native to North America, and do not have a stinger, either, which makes this writer like them a lot.

The bees are part of a working relationship that Landis Valley is developing with insects to help bring up productivity of plants around the site.  Because we need all of the seeds we can get from every plant we grow, pollination is hugely important.  Ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and mites also assist plant production in our greenhouses, keeping pests at bay without the need for chemical insecticides.

Apple trees and mason bees – here’s to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.