Do Fruit Trees Need Bees to Produce Fruit?

Yes, fruit trees need bees to produce fruit. Our fruit trees are in full bloom at Chelan Ranch Organics. On a sunny day in the orchard, the bees work hard as they buzz from blossom to blossom. Casually observing this symbiotic relationship between the farmer and the bees feels peaceful and harmonious, but it’s not. Lurking in the orchard shadows, we have bear drama, as bears want in on our yummy relationship with bees. 

At Chelan Ranch Organics, we understand the vital connection between bees and fruit trees regarding bountiful harvests. Let’s explore the relationship between bees, fruit trees, bears, and successful pollination.

The Buzz About Bee Rentals

Otto's Honey Chelan Ranch rents for pollination season

We rent honeybee hives from Otto’s Honey, an apiary in East Wenatchee, to kickstart pollination. The placement of these hives is strategic, with one hive per acre for apples and a higher density for cherries, ensuring thorough pollination across our orchards. Timing is crucial, and we request bee delivery at the beginning of open bloom time until the bloom cycle concludes. Using a map, Otto places the hives in groups of eight, secured on a pallet in our orchard.  The hives are specially made wood boxes just for bees. Inside are sleeves of honeycomb ready for the bees to fill with honey.

Hive Care and Protection

Beehives at Chelan Ranch
Sixteen hive boxes on a pallet in our cherry block.

Taking care of our bee colonies is a major focus for us. We ensure they have easy access to water by setting out 5-gallon buckets with sticks to drink from and climb out safely. These hives are strategically placed in sheltered spots in the orchard, with less wind and more sunlight. We’ve stepped up our hive protection game this spring with the recent bear activity. After confirming that a black bear was behind the damage to our hives in the cherry block, we got our heads together to figure out a solution. One of the best ideas we’ve come up with is using the cages we normally use for our organic liquid fish fertilizer. We’ve repurposed these cages to create a protective barrier around the hives. So far, it’s working! Our pallets of hives are safer, and our bees can get back to buzzing without worrying about unwelcome visitors.

Bear proof bee hive
Hopefully, this hive is bear-proof with the cage and secured posts!

Bear Challenges and Hive Preservation

Bear damaged hives
Bear damage to a hive in our orchard. The bees absconded to a new, unknown location! 

Bears are a real headache for the beekeepers and the farmers. The bears are after the juicy bee larvae and honeycombs inside the hive boxes, which can wreak havoc on the bee colonies. Losing the queen and her gang is bigger than just the messed-up hive boxes to the beekeeper, Otto. It also throws off our orchard pollination during the crucial fruit tree bloom. That’s when we count on those busy bees for a good fruit set. To top it off bears habitually return for seconds after hitting one of our hives. We’re keeping our eyes peeled for our runaway bees, hoping to spot a swarm nearby, maybe hanging out on a tree limb or nestled in a bush.

The Importance of Bees in Pollination

Bee pollinating at Chelan Ranch
A honeybee in a Sweetango apple blossom.

The presence of bees is crucial for fruit trees to bear (pun not intended!) fruit. As bees forage for nectar and pollen, they inadvertently transfer pollen grains between flowers, facilitating fertilization and fruit development. Our main apple varieties, Honeycrisp and Sweetango, are not considered self-pollinating, meaning they typically require pollen from a different apple tree variety to achieve a successful pollination and fruit set. While our apple trees can produce some fruit with their pollen, cross-pollination of the fruit improves the quality and quantity of fruit. The presence of bees enhances cross-pollination, genetic diversity, fruit set, fruit quality, and crop reliability in our apple and cherry trees, ultimately leading to healthier trees and more abundant harvests. Most fruit trees can produce viable fruit with bees, emphasizing pollinators’ indispensable role in our agriculture business.

Ensuring Pollination Success

Fruit trees like Honeycrisp need bees
Honeycrisp apples ready for harvest.

Bear damage and other challenges drive home the balance between keeping our hives safe and ensuring our fruit trees are pollinated just right. Here at Chelan Ranch, we’re all about giving our bees the best shot at thriving and doing their pollination magic among our fruit blossoms. It’s a two-way street – we take care of them, they take care of our harvests, and our orchards buzzing with life.

Bees and fruit trees are like peanut butter and jelly – they work together. That teamwork between bees and us farmers keeps our agriculture sustainable and our harvests juicy and plentiful.