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Apple orchard rents bees to promote plentiful growing season

Posted at 1:37 PM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 23:22:16-04

From the goats to the fruit, Apple Holler has so much for the family to enjoy, but there are some worker bees there you may not have noticed.

"As you can see, were going to have a lot of empire apples this year with that heavy bloom there," says Apple Holler owner Dave Flannery.

More than 30 varieties show their beautiful apple blossoms, painting a pink and white portrait from the trees to the ground.

"Probably within a few days this will be solid white," says Flannery. "If you look a little closer, you can even see the start of an apple. A zillion little tiny eraser sized apples on all the trees, it looks like a very good bloom this year, it looks like about all for those 30 varieties will have a decent crop."

But apple picking may not be possible without the help of what is in 50 white boxes scattered across the orchard: Bees. And during pollination, Flannery says it is only a matter of time during a nice, warm day until you see one doing its job.

"Eventually you will see a bee or more flying around in that tree, doing their pollinating from blossom to blossom," he says. "I think it's just a very cool thing that's nature's way of making sure that pollination should occur."

But Mother Nature doesn't have enough bees to guarantee pollination of the entire 60 acre orchard, so Apple Holler rents bees from May Honey Farms in Illinois.

"We pay $90 per hive, 50 hives, $4,500 but it is insurance," says Flannery. "And not all growers do. For me, bringing in bees, roughly a million and a half bees in 50 different hives, is kind of an insurance policy to make sure that we get all those 30 different varieties of apples pollinated."

Because with 20,000 trees, Flannery doesn't want to rely solely on mother nature, who isn't always reliable when it comes to Wisconsin weather.

Beekeeper Tim May from May Honey Farms knows how fickle our springs can be.

"One year I remember putting them in sometime at the end of March but this year it was - everything has been so late because it was such a cold spring, and also wet," said May.

That creates its own problems when picking up the bees.

"Oh, this one is stuck in the mud," said May.

But after the bees head back to Illinois, Apple Holler isn't worried about its apple harvest being stuck in the mud.

"Right now they say we're about 10 days behind, but come harvest, nature has its way over the course of the summer, balancing it all out, so we'll probably be close," Flannery said.

While Apple Holler is expecting a large apple crop this fall, their peaches may not fare so well this season because of the extreme cold we saw this winter.

"Basically we lost our entire peach crop for this year, at least that's the way things look now," said Flannery. "Peaches are more sensitive than apples. Apples are heartier. That's why there are very few peach growers in the state of Wisconsin."

So, peach pickers may have to wait and hope for a better peach harvest in 2020.