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The Trees are Alive...with Bees!

May 24, 2020
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Some years my three old apple trees whimper into spring with just a few buds, but this year the profusion of blossoms is like the trees' own fireworks. With this many blossoms and good weather during the summer, we should have a bonanza of apples in the fall.

Smothered by the surrounding forest, they were freed from their confinement when we cut down some nearby trees. They had not been pruned in years and needed a good trim to help them survive. A Yankee farmer told me that apple trees should be pruned so that you can "throw a cat through the middle." While we never sent our cat flying through any of our trees, I assumed the saying meant that most of the branches should be trimmed. Cutting lots of branches in one year would have shocked, even killed, these elderly trees. So we trimmed just a bit every winter. That's the best time; it's like operating on a patient who is under anesthetic.

According to legend, the largest of the three trees were planted in the 1920s by Sarah Whitehouse, former owner of Miles Smith Farm, when she stuck her applewood riding crop into the ground. With its gnarly bark and curving branches, this grande dame of a tree produces the sweetest apples of all. If the story is true, that tree was 50 years old when I moved to the farm in 1972. Now it's almost 100 years old and still productive.

When the apple blossoms arrive, so do the bees. I could sit for hours under the trees that hum and buzz, and watch bumblebees and honey bees bounce from flower to flower. The clumsy bumblebees are my favorite.

Bees don't bother our cattle, and they work hard, not only to produce honey but also to play their part in food creation. Without bees to get the pollen into the right places, we would have neither vegetables nor fruits-and that includes apples. 

Bees have declined in the last two decades due to habitat loss and degradation, and the use of pathogens and pesticides. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently designated the rusty-patched bumblebee as an endangered species. Rebecca Riley, an attorney for the federal Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division, said, "Bumblebees are dying off, vanishing from our farms, gardens, and parks, where they were once found in great numbers."

Bees are amazing partners on the farm and delightful entertainers as they flit from blossom to blossom. For each fruit tree you see in blossom this year, admire the beauty, but also see it as a grocery store – for bees and people. 

These days we need all the non-traditional sources of food we can find. Who needs apples and sugar from away when New Hampshire bees are working hard to produce fruit and honey right here? 

So bless the bees, the honey farmers, and all our predecessors who created the idyllic farmscape that blossoms and buzzes so enchantingly. I'm looking at you, Sarah Whitehouse!

Clipping Bleu

More than the bees are buzzing. The clippers at the cow spa will be buzzing on Memorial Day (May 25) for our 1st Annual Cow Spa at the Audubon Pasture. Watch Topper, Stash, and the other steers get a “haircut and a trim” to shed their heavy winter coats. You will be able to view from the path (outside the fence) on the west side of the pasture, near the fence charger. We’ll be there from noon to about 2 pm – or until all the boys are clipped. We ask that you social distance and wear masks while you watch.

Carole Soule

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