Pollination delayed as chill weather keeps bees in hives
By DAN WHEAT
Apricot trees are blooming around Pasco and Mattawa, areas known for the first tree fruit of the season in Central Washington.
Cherries should bloom in those locations about April 1. But growers wonder how much of another cool, wet spring they face.
The last four springs have been cooler and wetter than normal, lessening frost worries but making for poorer pollination and later crops.
"The word I'm getting is cool through April and then warm up in May, but I don't trust it," said Charles Lyall, a Mattawa grower who has given up on cots but still raises apples and cherries.
"Cherries are cold and holding. Cots and cherries are a little behind from average," he said. "I'm getting tired of cold springs. Right now, I'm more worried about pollination than frost."
Beehives have been placed in blooming cot orchards but the weather is too cool for the bees to do much.
Wind also has hampered bees, said Denny Hayden, a Pasco grower.
Bud degree days are normal, like last year, but then it stayed cool last year and bud development slowed, he said. It's hard to know, Hayden said, if that will happen again or temperatures will warm.
"I put my bees out on the 29th (of March) last year and as soon as I did it got cold," he said.
This year he witnessed frost and lows of 26 degrees north of Pasco the night of March 18.
"It may have damaged some cots. There wasn't much we could do about it because there were 8 mph winds. Wind machines were running but were not too effective," he said.
To the north, in Wenatchee and beyond, nothing is blooming yet.
Jorge Moreno was chipping tree prunings with a flail mower at Mountain View Orchard in East Wenatchee on a sunny March 19 morning. Actually, it was more than prunings but pieces of whole young Cameo trees, an apple variety of declining popularity, cut back to rootstock for grafting soon to the new Kanzi variety, said Mario Diaz, orchard manager.
Tim Smith, Washington State University Extension tree fruit specialist in Wenatchee, said full bloom of Red Delicious apples likely will be late in Wenatchee again this year. It was May 7 last year, eighth latest out of 89 years of record keeping. The average is April 27.
Bloom is important in the timing of pre-bloom sprays of mineral oil for mite and scale and in post-bloom pesticides. It gives growers an indication of crop load. Early bloom extends growers' frost risk. Late bloom shortens it.
WSU is working on a better and automated bloom stage model that will become part of the Decision Aid System tied to AgWeatherNet, Smith said.
Growers will be able to go to DAS, pick a weather site and get bloom stage forecasts for different cultivars at that site, he said.
As to another cool, wet spring, Smith said he's not worried.
"We'll be all right," he said. "Mild seasons are better than too hot."