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Pollination

Blooming Apples

In industrial scale mono-culture, crops rely entirely on honey bees brought in for pollination. But who's pollinating the apples at Eve's Cidery and other small New York State apple orchards? It might not be who you thought... We caught up with Kass Urban-Mead, graduate student at Cornell University's Danforth Lab, in the woods on Albee Hill where she gave us the low down on pollination.

Of her research, Kass writes:

"Earlier Cornell studies of wild bees in apple orchards saw: bees foraging in apple were STILL carrying up to ~40% tree & forest pollens. I wanted to start exploring how much the bees use those trees, not just during apple bloom, but starting long before then when the bees first come out and the trees first start blooming. Why is it 2019 and we don’t know the answer to this? (1) until media coverage about honey bee declines, there wasn’t a lot of support for wild unmanaged pollinator research and (2) lots of the trees are wind-pollinated, which means that we often ignore them as a possible bee food. However, just because the trees don’t need the bees, doesn’t mean that bees can’t figure out that the trees are making lots of tiny little protein packets (which is what pollen essentially is!!). So, it’s long overdue that we figure out the importance of forest trees.

Especially because if the surrounding habitat can support healthy bees BEFORE and AFTER apple bloom, then they’re sure to be there in abundance DURING apple bloom! (They need to be alive all year in order to pollinate during bloom!) this is of course true for all veg & fruit who rely on pollinators.
So ***I use regularly-monitored bee traps in forest canopies near apple orchards to ask:
(1) which species of bees are in forest understories and forest canopies, and how do those compare to the bees found in apple orchards? ***Then I am using microscope analysis of pollen from the bee guts
(2) which tree species are these bees eating primarily? Do different bee species/genera/families “eat” different trees preferentially? ***And I am quantifying the number + quality of pollen produced by common species to ask
(3) How does what the bees choose compare to what is available? e.g. are they just eating a lot of what there’s a lot of, or are they showing strong preferences?
(4) how good is the nutrition from the wind-pollinated trees vs. insect pollinated? or between trees that are preferred vs. ignored by bees?
There are around 416 species of wild bees in NY! Around 80 in the finger lakes region on apple. At least 40 of those I’ve caught in the forest found in apple orchards. Wild, free-living solitary mining bees are more effective at depositing pollen on a per-visit basis than honey bees, because of the way they touch the anthers. Forests are especially important for the males of this group, which are often forgotten but required so that the females can visit apple! "
Forest Bee collection
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Forest Canopy in april