Friday, February 20, 2009

And so it begins.....


After several days of cold, rain, and wind, we're finally starting to see the beginnings of Spring here at Frog Hollow Farm. For a few weeks--slowed only by the cool, wet weather--we had been seeing fruit tree blossoms begin to develop. Today, we were actually out helping Mother Nature get a start on the 2009 crop year. How, you ask? Well, through what is known as supplemental pollination (SP). Come again, you say?

As most people are aware, almost all farmers rely on pollination of their crops to fertilize the flowers in order to make fruit (or vegetables). The method most growers use is natural pollen sources disseminated by honeybees and other pollinators (e.g., wasps, flys, insects, even some birds, wind, etc.) Honeybees were, and are, by far the most important. In fact, there are many crops that simply wouldn't exist without adequate pollination; and other that unfortunately are weakly compatible. That is, there may be plenty of pollen and plenty of pollinators, but the pollen just isn't the right type to "make fruit."

Pollen incompatibility plus the current crisis surrounding honeybees (i.e., colony collapse disorder), in addition to weather issues, has sent many growers in the direction of using supplemental pollination (and pollen) to set a crop. Years ago, growers of some crops (like apples) overcame the incompatibility issue by planting compatible varieties close to each other, or collecting "floral bouquets" as an additional source of pollen. Since most stone fruit is self-fertile, SP simply helps nature along, or wasn't needed at all. But for varieties that are not strongly self-fertile, SP not only assists Mother Nature, but is an absolute requirement for a crop.

So, in the Spring pollen collectors go out into orchards to cut anthers (i.e., where the pollen resides in the flower) and collect the pollen. The pollen is then sold to growers who use it...like Frog Hollow Farm. This pollen is generally good for more than 1 season and can be frozen used for several years. However, just like with natural pollination, growers must make sure they get compatible pollen from the collectors. Rule of Thumb: don't use pollen from the same variety you're trying to pollinate.

Here at Frog Hollow Farm, we actually mix the pollen with a silica type material in order to provide a surface for the pollen to stick to and a little weight to make sure it gets to the flowers surface. We put the pollen/silica mixture into a modified leaf blower and drive up and down the rows blows pollen into the trees. And that's where we were today.

It'll be a few months from now before the results of the activity are fully realized. But in just a few weeks (or days if we had a microscope) we'll be able to see the little fruit (fertilized flowers) begin to develop. There'll be more postings in this blog about the crop development, so come back often. For now, enjoy the pictures and video of the beginnings of the 2009 season.

video

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