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Aspall Cyder - Cider and Vinegar

A hive of activity

06th May 2014

Cyder House

It’s a magical time of year to walk through our orchards. While we admire the spectacular blossom on the trees, we’ve been thinking about the bees and other insects which help to pollinate our trees, enabling the transformation takes place.

Einstein famously said…

"If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man."

And whilst I don’t believe that life would end without bees (there were no honey bees in North America until the Europeans got there), they do play an important role in the pollination of our trees. Natural pollination accounts for around 50% of the pollination that occurs, so the remaining work that the bees do is something we can’t take for granted, and we don’t leave it to chance. To encourage bees and other insects we have hives in each of our orchards, and try to mow the grass as late as possible to encourage insect activity.

We’re also looking at introducing some new ways to help the bees and other insects to feed and therefore make them work more effectively for us.

One idea is to sow wild flower strips near the hives. Whilst it’s bonanza time for the bees when the apple trees are in bloom, once blossom is over the bees are faced with a relatively long hike to find flowering plants from which to gather nectar. A wild flower strip on their doorstep will give them a chance to spend more time gathering nectar than commuting, which all helps to make a stronger hive. It also means they produce a fantastic tasting honey.

Another method is to introduce ‘insect hotels’, which will offer potential homes for a plethora of insects, especially masonry bees. Unlike the comparatively lazy honey bee, masonry bees actually eat pollen. So when a masonry bee enters a flower he gets properly smothered in pollen and so transfers pollen from one tree to another much more effectively than the honey bee, who’s really only there for the nectar and picks up the pollen by accident. A masonry bee is also much more active and energetic, he will come out in cold and rain whereas the honey bee tends to be more reluctant when the conditions are poor. Masonry bees are in the region of 50% more effective at pollination than their honey cousins.

Much of the debate about critical colony collapse centres on one or two factors such as pesticides and modern farming techniques. In reality, there are many factors that affect bees, and if the hive is inherently weak due to too much honey being taken from them, or the colony keeps swarming, a dose of pesticides at the wrong moment or the arrival of the viroa mite can be enough to tip the balance out of the bees’ favour.

We have a bee-keeper who tends to our hives to try to ensure the bees are in the best possible shape, and we’ll write more about this his work and the honey he collects in another blog post. We’ve also been keenly watching a recent BBC4 series, ‘ The Wonder of Bees’, presented by fellow local bee enthusiast, Martha Kearney. All four episodes are available to watch on iplayer, so if you’re interested in bees, it’s a really fascinating programme to watch.

If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left. No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.