Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Pencils in space, climate wobble and pollinating insect collapse

There is a story about NASA spending millions of dollars to develop a pen that would write in space. The Soviets, facing the same problems of weightlessness and the hard vacuum that the Americans faced sent their cosmonauts into space with 5 cent pencils.

The activists who worry about climate change want to spend trillions of dollars to remake the economy. Somehow they forget that India and China are not about to bow to their uneconomical ideas and Jevon's paradox will simply shift where the carbon dioxide is produced rather than reducing total production.

As a retired person of very modest means, my response to climate wobble is to plant a wide range of plants. I have apple, plum, gooseberry, current and grape varieties that can shrug off -40F. I have producing species that are at home in Evansville, Indiana and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

One of the things I did yesterday to make my "serious" orchard more resilient to climate wobble was to graft a second varieties into trees that are more than fifteen feet from another pollinator.
Apple trees that pollinate early in the spring. Open boxes show compatibility. Red boxes are unacceptable pollen donors. Source

It is a fact that many types of fruit trees, apples, pears and plums for instance, are self-sterile. It is nature's way of avoiding inbreeding. Planting large blocks of one type of apple, for instance, results in most flower-to-flower sorties spreading pollen that will not produce fruit.

In the absence of honeybees, the common bumblebee is usually a reliable pollinator. Unlike the honeybee, the bumblebee will fly and pollinate trees when the weather is cold, damp or windy.

The bumblebee is not without its Achille's Heel. They are ground nesting bees and continuous, rainy weather can flood their nests or afflict them with disease.

What is within my control is to shorten the distance between the pistils (the female parts) on one branch and the anthers (male parts) producing acceptable pollen on another branch.

One solution is to plant compatible varieties so close together that their branches interlace. This used to be common advice for Japanese and American plums. These plums flower very early in the season when adverse weather severely hampers pollinating insects.

For the phenology record, Asian pears and Japanese plums were at peak bloom yesterday and I got the potatoes planted the day before yesterday (May 5).

Additionally, the flowers of Japanese plums are not very appealing to bees. Perhaps they offer little nectar. I noted yesterday that there were easily ten times as many bees working the South Dakota Prunus americana as there were bees working the Japanese X myrobalan hybrid growing next to it.
Apple varieties that pollinate later in the spring. One advantage of crab apples is that they typically produce abundant blossoms every spring. An additional tip is that bees tend to prefer white flowered varieties over pink and red flowers.

I have a few places where I have three of the same variety in a block. Today I grafted a pollen donor into the middle tree of those blocks. My thinking is that if I do this right, then I can still get full crops even if the best I can manage for pollinating insects is one punch-drunk bumblebee per tree.

Stay tuned.


  1. We have carpenter bees which nest in wood. While everyone is bent on eliminating them I note that they stumble around through flowers. Do they live that far north? Nail come spruce scraps to your fence. You will get carpenter bees.

  2. Idjits down here planted Bradford pears everywhere... sigh... I don't think there is a producing pear tree in 30 miles! Dammit