Thursday, April 12, 2012

Mason Bees

Note the two females peeking out from the nest tunnels

I was surprised at the detail as I took these photos with my iPhone

     The mason bees are finally out.  I took these pictures when I came home for lunch and found several mason bees shyly peeking out from their nesting tunnels. I have been anxiously waiting for my mason bees to emerge as I already have several fruit trees starting to bloom.  The bees are usually out by April Fools Day but everything has been running late this year. For the past week I have left my orchard ladder up against the south wall where the mason bee nests are hung. This has allowed me to check them every day and monitor their progress.  I saw a few males hanging out on the nests several days ago, but this was the first time I found females in the nesting tunnels.

     I have 5 beehives that survived the winter, three of which are really going gangbusters.  However, I don't trust the honeybees to do the job on our early tree fruit. Often it is too cold or too wet for the honeybees. The mason bees do a better pollination job in our wet variable springs.  Before I started doing mason bees I only got sweet cherries one year out of three. Now that I have mason bees I get cherries almost every year.

    I'm looking forward to a good fruit season.  Of course I'm an incurable optimist and I look forward to a good fruit season every year. Sometimes I am disappointed. Some things do very well in our climate and are very dependable.  Other things are very hit or miss.  We do very well almost every year on blueberries, grapes, strawberries, and raspberries.  Now that I've got some of the right varieties for our climate I'm starting to have better luck with apples.  The sweet cherries, on the other hand, are legalized gambling.  I always get some, thanks to the mason bees and 7 different varieties, but some years(like 2011) are a bit sparse. I have two pie cherry trees that are fairly small yet.  They seem to be producing consistently, but that is hard to judge when the entire harvest is only enough for two cherry pies.  I have one plum tree and one asian pear that are big enough where I may finally get a significant amount of fruit from them. Its been a long time since I produced enough plums to make jam.

       Other less conventional fruit in our garden include red currants, black currants, hardy kiwis, and lingon berries.  I have yet to harvest my first kiwi or lingon berry but I'm hoping this will be the year.  My lingon berry bushes have grown large enough that I would expect them to produce something. I even took advantage of my time at the Seattle Flower and Garden Show to ask the owner of Raintree Nursery if he had any suggestions as to why the lingon berries were not producing.  I'm less perplexed by the kiwis.  We made the mistake of believing a label that our Issei hardy kiwi was self fertile.  I now have it on both personal experience and the advice of several serious fruit geeks that no kiwis are truly self fertile.  Kiwis have male and female plants.  If you don't have a male kiwi the female plants will not produce fruit.  Three years ago we planted a male kiwi and an additional female plant (Ken's Hardy Red).  Both of those plants have grown much larger but the failed to produce any blossoms last year so we still had no kiwis.  I'm planning to build a new trellis for the kiwis, a large arching arbor.  I currently have a good supply of cedar strips so it seems a good use for them. Let's hope the new arbor will be weighed down with some fruit.

         Last year I had no currants at all.  That was by choice as a means of ridding my garden of the currant sawfly.  The currant sawfly lays its eggs in the developing fruit which ends up a dried up brown shriveled thing. I had tried to get rid of the fly the year before by changing the mulch. The larvae are supposed to crawl out of the damaged fruit and drop to the ground where they pupate in the soil.  I figured if I replaced the mulch I would get rid of the pupating flies.  They must burrow down pretty deep as that didn't work.  This last year I pruned the currants real heavily and then pruned off any blossoms that appeared so they set no fruit at all.  I figured if the fly had no place to lay its eggs, they would disappear. In a few months I will know if my scorched earth policy worked.

    I had some volunteer black cap raspberries in several inconvenient places in our garden.  I have left them alone as I do really love the blackcap raspberries. This spring I dug them all up and transplanted them into our small woodlot. They may not produce much fruit this year, but hopefully they will prosper there.  I've seen them do well in the past in some fairly shady locations.  They may require some help in keeping the blackberries at bay. We have a decent little red raspberry patch over by the strawberries now so I will survive if I don't get much from the blackcaps this year.

    Our strawberries are starting to perk up.  On Monday I started digging up the strawberry plants that have spread into the stone paths.  If anyone wants to get into strawberries, there are a couple of good beds to be had for the digging. Just bring your own containers as I am running out of small plastic pots.

   On the poultry front, the current score is Ducks 128, Chickens 19.

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