Although the rain has returned, the blossoms are out. I went out to visit the orchard yesterday after not being out there for several days and was struck by the chorus of trees almost all at some stage of bloom. All shades of pink, white and red brightened the fog veiled drizzle. The cool wet weather is a far from ideal for pollination. The majority of pollinators prefer the warmth of the sun and a calm wind. I was happy to see a few bumble bees buzzing around the wet violets and dandelions under some of the trees, but I am hoping for some drier warmer weather before the petals fall.
Some of the early blooming varieties already have a light carpet of petals under their branches, signaling the need for the first spraying of the Kaolin clay, which will hopefully help protect the young fruits from European Apple Sawfly, Codling Moth and Plum Curculio all of which tend to find their way into the orchard during or soon after bloom. If I had more time and resources I would have traps out to monitor the pests and their arrival, instead I will have to rely on the less accurate, but sill useful degree day tracking method to estimate when the first of these insects may pose a threat to the developing fruit. In an ideal world, I would already have made the first application of the Kaolin clay, but the rain makes applying it almost impossible and if there is one thing I already knew before I got into all this, it is that the reality tending an orchard is more often than not, far from ideal. Once in a while though, when you are surrounded by blossoms, flitting birds and the aromatic spring air, you forget all that and just appreciate it for what it is.
The first blossoms opened yesterday on the Summer Scarlet, the earliest variety in the orchard to bloom. Every fruiting spur on an apple tree produces a cluster of six buds; five centered around a central blossom known as the King Blossom. This blossom is the first to open and pollination of it is key in insuring good fruit set. The fruit of the king blossom is often larger than the others in the cluster and is selected at thinning time if one is thinning by hand.
King blossom on Summer Scarlet
The orchard is finally drying out after a very wet April that has left Cayuga Lake (Ithaca's Finger Lake) above flood stage. With several sunny days under our belt and forecasts for the same, my mind is able to rest a bit, not having to think about spraying sulfur for scab again until the next predicted rain. The maples have burst in the past week as have the dandelions, laying out a yellow carpet for the bees in the orchard. There is a trade off when it comes to managing the understory of an orchard in the spring. The more flowers that are blooming along side the apples, the more there is to tempt the bees, but the same flowers that attract the busy pollinators to the apple trees, also compete with them for attention.
I piled up the last of the winter prunings this past week, cutting the branches into manageable sizes and piling them as neatly as possible throughout the orchard. Once I can find a way to get the trailer load of prunings out of the mud, where it has sat for several weeks, I can slowly continue moving the prunings out of the orchard where they will ideally be burned to keep any diseased wood from spreading canker spores around the orchard.
Clap Pear Blossoms
Some of the plums already have a blanket of pedals under their branches and the two lonely pears look ready to burst. The next several weeks will bring new trees blooming every day as the hundreds of apple varieties in the orchard each take the stage.